Fishermen want guns to protect them from uptick in pirate attacks
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
There’s a small but growing pirate problem along the Venezuelan coastline from Maracaibo in the west to Trinidad in the east. Seaborne bandits move drugs, hijack fishing boats and rob fishermen — and even carry out kidnappings, rapes and murders.
To be sure, the problem is far less serious than in the world’s most pirate-crowded waterways, mostly near West Africa and Malaysia and Indonesia. But it’s gradually getting worse.
Venezuela is undergoing a long and slow-burning economic and political crisis marked by rising unemployment, falling government revenues — largely derived from oil — and rationing of basic consumer goods including meat and toilet paper.
The country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and is a major conduit for cocaine leaving Latin America for Europe and North America. Traveling on Venezuela’s highways at night can be extremely dangerous.
That danger extends off the coast, too.
Pirates shot and wounded 11 fishermen off the Venezuelan coast in June 2015 alone, according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. One fisherman, 35-year-old Juan Carlos Chavez, almost died when “masked pirates” shot him in the chest and arm.
These are small-time pirates compared to off the coast of Africa. For one, there’s few pirates attempting to board or hijack oil tankers and container ships in the Caribbean. The region as a whole is more politically stable, so there are fewer people willing to become pirates.
But pirates exist all the same, and they target boats such as the Wilmary Jesús, a small fishing craft which disappeared off Venezuela in May along with its two crewmembers. The authorities believe pirates took them.
But attacks on larger ships are not unheard of.
In June, pirates boarded the VFM Alita, a 3,790-ton, 106-meter long Venezuelan cargo ship anchored off the coast of Panama. After hearing of the assault, Panamanian troops “stormed the ship” and arrested five pirates, according to World Maritime News.
Venezuela’s navy largely consists of corvettes and small patrol boats which are capable at dealing with pirates. But fishermen say the legal authorities are not able to stop the attacks. The best defense against pirate attacks is not the military, in any case.
A navy simply can’t watch … everything. The ocean is big, pirates attack suddenly and randomly, and the best solution is simply being able to shoot back. Maritime security analysts largely credit armed guards on ships transiting near Somalia for reducing pirate attacks in that region.
As it turns out, fisherman in La Zorra, a port town in central Venezuela, asked the Interior Ministry for permission to carry firearms on boats. The Venezuelan government has responded that its carrying out a security crackdown, but that hasn’t led to a visible decrease in piracy.
Guyana has already begun allowing fishermen to carry guns on boats. But the fishermen have to turn their guns over to the police once they arrive on land. Guyana, a small and poor country to Venezuela’s east, simply does not have the naval forces to effectively patrol its coastline.
“I am keen on something like that because when you are out on the ocean there it’s like the olden times in America, like you [are] out in the west and you have only a six-shooter revolver to defend yourself,” Khemraj Ramjattan, Guyana’s public security minister said in June.
If Venezuela’s problems get any worse, the country’s fishermen might start arming up, too. Whether or not the government allows it.