While authorities in Trinidad and Tobago battle to stabilize its economy, grapple with gangland violence, a murder every 24 hours and prepare the country for general elections next year, government is also being forced to cope with a multifaceted problem involving Venezuelan refugees including sex rings, refugees and possibly acts of piracy at sea.
Authorities say that the Venezuelan refugee problem is beginning to take its toll on state resources including additional pressure on the coastguard to monitor waters in the Gulf of Paria where a vessel with 32 people went under last month killing all aboard. Authorities have estimated the number of Venezuelans in Trinidad in the past two years at between 40,000 to 60,000.
In the past week for example, authorities were pushed to respond to reports that another vessel with more than 20 Venezuelan refugees had gone down in the border waters between the two nations but searches of the area have turned up no evidence of an accident at sea said Minister of Security, Stuart Young.
Now reports are beginning to surface about a new problem in the seven-mile stretch between Trinidad and Venezuela. Local media say that police are now being asked to zero in on the possibility that the vessel might not have vanished after all but that human trafficking gangs might have intercepted the boat with its human cargo of mostly women for the purposes of human trafficking and prostitution.
Young said the coastguard have scoured the areas for hours on end and have found absolutely no evidence of any mishap at sea
“To date the TT coast guard has found absolutely no evidence of any vessel being sunk or anybody being on such a vessel in the water or anything being associated with a vessel in the water. They have been in contact with their colleagues from the Venezuelan authorities, who are also conducting patrols, and at this stage have found nothing either. We stand ready to assist in any way that they can” the minister said.
But local newspapers are beginning to urge authorities to talk to relatives of passengers who have boarded boats in Venezuela, alerted family in Trinidad of their estimated times of arrival and never made it to any coastal Trinidadian port.
The Guardian reported on the case of university student Kelly Zambrano who never made it to the island last week even after telling relatives that she was aboard and about to sail.
The latest incidents about activities on the high seas come amid reports that several such vessels have disappeared off Venezuela in recent weeks. The relatives say that days after these vessels ‘disappeared’ male passengers and crew turn up alive but the women are never seen again.
To add some credence to these allegations, police in southwestern Trinidad this week search several camps in the hilly Los Iros area for alleged sex camps where women were reportedly paid about $60.00 per hour to work as prostitutes or sex slaves. No evidence was found but this is just the latest example of the multifaceted nature of policing associated with Trinidad’s Venezuelan refugee crisis officials say.
The vessel with the more than 20 persons aboard is alleged to have left northeastern Guiria State last Thursday but no one can verify if there was ever such a journey or what might have happened to the pirogue.
Still Robert Richards, a businessman from the US Virgin Islands might have also contributed to the search for the vessels by reporting on social media that he had picked up one of the survivors about 30 miles offshore Trinidad and had taken him to Trinidad.
“We found this young man 30 miles offshore of Trinidad in some sporty sea conditions fighting for his life, he had been in the water for 19 hours, while we were bringing our new boats back. He was on a boat that sunk the night before with 20 other people on board, so far no other survivors, they were on their way to Trinidad to buy food because there home of Isla De Margarita, a Venezuela island has limited food that’s very expensive, it’s a very sad thing going on there GOD bless the lost ones,” he said.
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