A woman holds a candle in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday, during a vigil for victims who drowned in Guiria last weekend while on their way to T&T illegally.

The ill-fated boat carrying 41 Venezuelans which capsized off Guiria three weeks ago only had the capacity for eight people and had no life jacket or navigation equipment.

The overloaded boat—carrying just over five times the amount it should have carried—was cited as the main cause of the shipwreck. This incident occurred after the vessel left Venezuela on December 6. At last count last week, 28 bodies had been found.

The result followed a probe of the incident which was detailed in a communiqué from the Venezuelan Government. The report was issued on Christmas Day by A Carmen Teresa Meléndez Rivas, Minister of People’s Power for Internal Relations, Justice and Peace. The statement referred to the results of the technical and forensic investigations carried out by specialised Venezuelan agencies. Rivas stated, “The tragedy that occurred in Güiria has caused immense sorrow to the Venezuelan people.”

The boat had been heading to T&T, but never got close. Venezuelan authorities which launched investigations stated it involved a human trafficking/smuggling ring. Each of the 41 people had paid (US)$150 for the trip. The vessel’s owner and the owner of the farm from where passengers left were both arrested. Ten others were also sought. Luis Ali Martinez, the 56-year-old owner of the watercraft, will be charged with alleged human trafficking on the Venezuelan coast.

The incident caused T&T to be blamed falsely for its occurrence. There were allegations that the boat was detained in Trinidad and returned to Venezuela. However, the T&T Coast Guard said that it had not intercepted any boats from Guiria.

Venezuelan opposition members and their supporters in and out of T&T and at the Organisation of American States attempted to blame T&T, some using the opportunity to try to pressure this country for “open-door” access by unlimited Venezuelans. Some claimed the unfortunate passengers were fleeing persecution in Venezuela or the boat had been “turned back” from here.

However, in the official probe results, Rivas stated that on December 6, 2020, the ship identified as “My Memory” was wrecked in the Gulf of Paria, approximately 11 nautical miles from the departure point, located in the El Rincón sector, Güiria, in the Sucre state.

“On the boat was a group of people who were going to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to spend the Christmas holidays with their families and others were going to work in previously arranged positions.

“The main cause of the wreck was the overloading of the fibreglass rock-type boat, which, having a capacity for eight people and a maximum weight of two tons, carried 41 people and a weight of approximately four tons.

“Additionally, they did not have life jackets or the necessary safety equipment for navigation; coupled with the prevailing bad weather in the area at the time the accident occurred, influencing the incidence of northwesterly trade winds, which caused a surge of two to three meters.”

Rivas also stated, “The vessel left an illegal place and covertly at night, with the intention of evading the maritime controls established by the security agencies of (Venezuela).

“The National Government, in order to guarantee the due protection of the Venezuelan people, has provided greater controls and security devices so that these events do not occur again.”

Rivas said, “Likewise, comprehensive social support to the affected families, accompanying them in their pain for these irreparable losses in such a regrettable accident, including the communities where they lived, all our solidarity for the People of Güiria.”

Rivas also stated, “Finally, we reject the political manipulation of extremist sectors that, without any consideration for the pain of the Venezuelan families who lost their loved ones, have used the image and memory of the deceased, in their attempt to affect the stability of the country, as well as the adequate coordination relations between the governments of Venezuela and T&T.”

‘Rest in peace…’

A December 18 ACN Canada article claimed Venezuelan mafias charge US$500 to travel “the dangerous routes used by traffickers in the past to move gasoline and drugs and now, to traffic human beings.”

The T&T Government has stepped up surveillance and crackdown on trafficking. National Security Minister Stuart Young recently told Parliament over ten people including security agency people have appeared in recent months before the courts for trafficking.

Before Christmas, Prime Minister Keith Rowley warned that upcoming laws will tighten anti-trafficking laws and Venezuelans involved in the trafficking problem will be among the first to be sent back to their country in the upcoming re-registration exercise for the 16,523 registered Venezuelans here in T&T. This begins in January. Their stay in T&T will be extended to July 2021. That legislation is a priority item for Parliament ahead. Opposition whip David Lee didn’t answer yesterday on if the Opposition would support this bill to protect T&T.

Up to yesterday, some of the T&T-based relatives of the victims, in mourning, were recalling their loved ones and what might have been if they had lived to cross the 100 KM to T&T and spend the Christmas with them. Among the dead were children, a pregnant woman, and youths.

“Que Dios les conceda descanso en paz y nos ayude a todos…” said one man whose partner was among the dead. This means “May God grant you rest in peace and help us all.”

She was buried in Guiria.