Venezuela says at least 20 dead in shipwreck, one person detained
At least 20 people died when a boat sank off the eastern Venezuelan coast over the weekend and the vessel’s owner has been arrested. The Venezuelan government said Sunday, 13 December 2020, it had found 14 bodies after a ship carrying migrants bound for Trinidad and Tobago was wrecked en route. 11 bodies were found by a Coast Guard patrol on Saturday afternoon and “today, following up on the events that occurred, we found three dead, two adult males and one female on the beach.” The Trinidadian Coast Guard had said Saturday that Venezuelan authorities informed them that “11 bodies had been recovered that day in waters near the Venezuelan coastal town of Guiria,” in the northeastern state of Sucre. Preliminary information suggested that the boat left on 6 December 2020 with more than 20 people on board. The Government of President Nicolas Maduro initially said it had found 14 bodies floating off shore from Guiria in the state of Sucre, a frequent departure point for migrants fleeing their Venezuela’s economic crisis to the neighbouring island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Venezuelan opposition deputy Robert Alcala, who represents Sucre state, said that migrant departures to Trinidad often used precarious boats loaded with too much weight. The deputy said the boat was “allegedly detained in Trinidad and was returned to Venezuela,” as part of the island nation’s response to the arrival of Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic crisis. Citing a police report, he said that the bodies were tied together supposedly to protect themselves from heavy waves and were in an advanced state of decomposition.
The Trinidadian Coast Guard, however, said that it had not intercepted any boats from Guiria.
Venezuela has been crippled by a political and economic crisis causing runaway inflation, long queues for petrol, shortages of water and gas and power cuts.
The UN estimates that more than five million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015 due to the crisis, some 25,000 of whom fled to Trinidad and Tobago.
About 100 people have disappeared during the dangerous journey from Guiria to Trinidad between 2018 and 2019 alone.
The island nation, with a population of 1.3 million, says it has facilitated the registration of 16,000 Venezuelans.
Prosecutor Tarek Saab wrote on Twitter that 56-year-old Luis Martinez had been arrested and that the case had been assigned to prosecutors specialising in human trafficking. “The prosecutor’s office reiterates its commitment to sanction (the people) responsible for these crimes, who have organised mafias that operate between Sucre and the island of Trinidad to promote...human trafficking,” Saab wrote. At least 40 000 Venezuelans live in Trinidad and Tobago, many of whom arrived in small rickety boats overloaded beyond capacity, with limited supplies of fuel and food.
Last year, at least two ships that set off from Venezuela en route to the Caribbean nation disappeared at sea.
Venezuela’s economic meltdown has spurred a mass migration of some five million people seeking to escape the South American country’s hyper-inflationary collapse.