Published On: Tue, May 8th, 2018

Suriname police detain thirteen suspects in pirate attacks

stuart_getrouwPARAMARIBO - Police authorities in Suriname confirmed on Monday that they have detained 13 suspects in the ongoing investigation into the recent armed attacks on several fishing boats offshore Suriname. At a joint press conference, Guyana’s home affairs minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, and Suriname’s minister of justice and police, Stuart Getrouw, said that over the past couple of days 30 individuals have been arrested and brought in for questioning.

Several individuals were captured by fishermen but most of the suspects, all Guyanese fishermen, were arrested over the weekend at several locations by police, Coast Guard and the Bureau for National Security (BNV).

Getrouw noted that there is no clear picture yet as what really transpired two Fridays ago and if it was just a common act of piracy or something else. Authorities are also trying to figure out if on that fateful day there were indeed 20 fishermen at sea who came under attack.

While the 13 suspects are now being questioned about their possible involvement in the recent attacks, several other individuals who were also arrested without proper immigration status were deported to Guyana.

Among the detainees assisting with the inquiries is also the son of Somnauth Manohar, a fishing boat owner who was gunned down in March in front of his home in Paramaribo at a drive-by shooting. Sources have indicated that the murder of Manohar sparked the violent attacks on Friday, as part of an ongoing dispute between Guyanese fishermen in Suriname. Relatives of Manohar vowed to retaliate for his death.

Meanwhile the Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued a contact ban so that the detainees have no contact with the outside world or their lawyers. This is being done because the investigation is still in its early stages. The restriction can legally last a maximum of 14 days. In the attacks two Fridays ago it is said that 20 fishermen were victims of the assault. So far, three bodies have been recovered and five men have survived the incident.

On Saturday, the Surinamese minister of defence announced that the marine unit of the Surinamese National Army will deploy gunboats to patrol the coastal waters more frequently. Minister Ronni Benschop also said that helicopters will assist during these operations. Since the attacks, most boat owners recalled their vessels back to the dock until the sea is safe again to venture back out there.

Meanwhile, noting that recent attacks on Guyanese fishermen in Surinamese waters are no random acts of violence for economic gains, Guyana’s opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo called called not only for swift action from the governments of Suriname and Guyana, but also for special prosecution of perpetrators.

During a meeting on Sunday in Suriname with fishermen, families of missing fishers, boat owners and survivors, he stressed that his party will file a motion this Friday in parliament regarding the pirate attacks. Suspects caught in Guyana shouldn’t be prosecuted routinely by the police prosecutor since, according to Jagdeo and MP Anil Nandlall, they are not properly trained for such cases.

“If they are going to prosecute this matter, which we expect them to do, they must hire a prosecutor. A lawyer must be sent to prosecute this matter,” Nandlall argued.

Nandlall, a former attorney-general, added that a policeman facing a high-paid defence lawyer “is not a fair contest”. Therefore the opposition party will call for the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to send a lawyer to prosecute this matter.

“That’s the only way that you will have a fair representation of the interest of the deceased persons,” he said.

According to Jagdeo, a former president, the Guyanese government should also handle this issue differently than regular pirate attacks.

“We have to explore not to only using the piracy law, but the terrorism law in Guyana to go after this,” he noted.

He will also raise this issue in parliament.

Both politicians told the audience that a case such as the recent attacks can’t be dealt with as ordinary crimes of violence. When there is other evidence presented, the authorities should apply different laws to keep suspects longer in custody in order to increase the chance of a successful prosecution.

“You have to treat it exceptionally, even if there is a 72-hour rule and you have a suspicion in this kind of situation and evidence,” Jagdeo noted.

The former president also called for a unified stance within Guyana and between Suriname and Guyana to tackle the piracy issue.

“We will support the government of Guyana as much as it’s so reprehensible. On this one we will collaborate with the government, work with them because we hope they don’t play politics with this,” Jagdeo told the gathering.

Several persons, including relatives of the missing fishermen and boat owners related their stories.

“Dem thieving we. We need justice. Real justice. When you catch dem just finish dem, please,” said a businesswoman who lost several fishing boats due to pirate attacks and now has to cope how to repay a loan she took on her house to finance her operations.

“We have no income. We cannot buy a bicycle or a bicycle tyre now,” she said.

The despair by relatives who are still searching for answers regarding their loved ones was palpable throughout the meeting. The families and the survivors described in great detail the horrors that they have endured at the hands of criminals and expressed great fears that these atrocities will be repeated unless the perpetrators are arrested and brought to justice.

“All I want is justice. They tie his hand to his neck. What I heard is they tie batteries around his foot and they throw him in that water. That is not fair. This is not fair… If I will get that person that do that to my nephew, I myself will kill him back. Trust me, I myself go kill him back,” the distraught aunt of Ramesh Sancharam, one of the missing fishermen, said.

During a meeting with the Guyanese fishing community last Saturday the Surinamese minister of defence disclosed what measure his government has taken so far to tackle the issue and make the sea safer.

“Within one week you can go back to sea and ply your trade. Because when you lose money, the country loses money,” Benschap told the fishermen.

Guyanese fishermen and boat operators are the main suppliers of fish for the Surinamese market, an industry valued at US$45 million annually.

By Ivan Cairo

Photo: Suriname Minister of Justice and Police, Stuart Getrouw

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