National Security Minister Stuart Young.

Deliberately targetted operations have been intensified against people involved in human smuggling and trafficking—and more than 10 people, including some law enforcement members, have appeared before T&T’s courts, National Security Minister Stuart Young said yesterday.

He gave the reply to Opposition queries in the Senate following the recent incident where a Venezuelan boat overturned seven miles off Guiria in Venezuelan waters, killing a reported 20 people. The vessel was reportedly headed to T&T.

Venezuelan authorities on Monday said their coast guard discovered the situation and blamed it on human traffickers linked to gangs. Authorities detained the vessel’s owner and are hunting seven other Venezuelans with Interpol help. T&T was also described as the epicentre of trafficking from Venezuela in reports on the incident.

On whether any relatives of the victims in T&T were given counselling, Young said Government hasn’t been provided with information of if the victims had relatives here.

“The loss of life in this tragic manner is upsetting. We’re aware bodies were recovered close to the Venezuelan coastal town of Guiria and in Venezuelan waters. I’ve been informed unfortunately more bodies were found on the shoreline in Venezuela. We’ve been in constant touch with Venezuelan authorities through the Ministries of National Security and Foreign Affairs.”

Young added, “We continue to see all sorts of speculation and misinformation about the T&T Coast Guard’s involvement—none of which is true. The available information suggests this was an incident of human smuggling. This fact seems to be overlooked. Human smuggling and human trafficking are both illegal and not to be encouraged.

“It’s very sad the criminal elements involved in human trafficking and smuggling through the nefarious activities caused the loss of lives—we pray for their families.”

He stressed that the borders of T&T and Venezuela remain closed and it’s illegal for people to enter without requisite permission and authority.

Among maritime patrols and other measures to stem the flow of illegal migrants, he said joint police, Immigration and Defence Force patrols are done in the forests and waterways. There’s also expanded surveillance, information gathering and intensification of deliberately targetted operations against people involved in the human smuggling and trafficking trade.

He said he didn’t have exact numbers on hand but over time more than 10 people in T&T have been charged with human trafficking, including some law enforcement members.

Young said various measures have been taken to halt the flow of illegal migrants—especially during the COVID pandemic. He said T&T’s Coast Guard continues a 24-hour response capability around the coast, particularly areas commonly associated with unregulated landings by illegals. Maritime assets, interceptor vessels and radar systems are augmented by Regiment land patrols, especially in South, he added.

Young said all serviceable vessels are used but refused to give the full number of vessels for “obvious national security reasons.” He cited the same “security” reasons in declining to list all army camps beyond the main Southern army base. “We’ll never provide the information to the public—it will compromise operations,” he said to Opposition insistence.

T&T’s Air Guard support includes an AW 139 helicopter and air assets.