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FLASHBACK - A backhoe pulls the boat on which 15 bodies were found ashore at Back Bay, Belle Gardens, Tobago.

Loyse Vincent

The quiet fishing community of Belle Garden, Tobago, was rocked by the gruesome discovery of 14 bodies and other human remains on board a fishing vessel drifting just a few miles out at sea early yesterday morning.

According to reports, fishermen from the area said they were on a regular fishing trip just after 6 am, when they observed the oddly-shaped boat which appeared to them to be Venezuelan due to its design.

They said the boat appeared to be unmanned and drifting towards shore. The vessel bore the registration number AG231.

According to the fishermen, a strong and foul odour was also coming from the vessel and after taking a closer look, they saw what appeared to be human remains on board.

One of the fishermen who made the discovery, Jason Broomes, spoke with the media about his experience.

“There was a boat with plenty fish around it and it was smelling stink, so it might have dead people. We take a little small peep and we see a body over the bough but we know with that smell it had to be more.”

Broomes said after alerting the T&T Coast Guard, the fishermen were advised by the Coastguardsmen that they did not have a vessel available and that they (fishermen) should instead pull the vessel to shore.

“Imagine they don’t have no vessel and I find they always supposed to have a boat on standby, because if it was an emergency and somebody was in difficulty what would have happened.”

When the fishermen arrived to shore with the vessel around 10.30 am, it had to be dragged onto land by heavy equipment, as the rope used to tow the boat to shore broke several times while men were trying to moor the vessel.

The discovery caused villagers to gather at the beach to gain a viewing point.

“We just heard a boat come ashore with dead bodies,” some of them were heard saying.

Police, who had blocked the main access point to the beach, eventually fanned, out clearing the beaches, sighting infringement of COVID-19 regulations which prohibit people from being on beaches.

Investigators remained on the beach processing the scene until about 4 pm.

Guardian Media was told that a cellphone and a GPS device were found on board.

The Tobago Emergency Management Agency also assisted in securing the area.

TEMA chairman Allan Stewart described the scene as shocking, as “several of the bodies were dismembered and in an advanced stage of decomposition.”

“Investigations are continuing. Bodies are decomposed and we can’t say the nationalities, so the investigations are trying to confirm the nationalities. They are all male. So far, they were clothed in – most of them – in green rain jackets and Puma track pants. There were no survivors in the vessel,” he said.

Guardian Media contacted TTCG Public Affairs Officer Khadija Lamy for a comment on the fishermen’s claim that they contacted the Coast Guard for help and were told they had no vessel to respond. Up to news time, there was no response.

In a news release, the TTPS confirmed the discovery of the 14 bodies, a skull and skeletal remains.

ACP William Nurse, Police Supt Rhodil Kirk and several Homicide, Charlotteville and Roxborough CID officers were at the scene. Investigations are continuing.