Auto dealer fingered in stolen pontoon
The Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) has launched its own probe into last week’s mysterious disappearance and subsequent recovery of a multi-million-dollar pontoon from the Demerara Harbour Bridge.
The pontoon was found abandoned approximately six and a half kilometers (four miles) up the Mahaica Creek, minus a few of its fixtures. It is believed that several staffers colluded with persons unknown, removing the pontoon under the cover of darkness. It was in all probability taken by a tug to the area where it was abandoned.
Yesterday, Public Works Minister Robeson Benn said that there could be linkages between low level staffers and a businessman.
The pontoon, estimated to be worth between $25M and $30M, was to be used in the weekend’s repairs to the bridge’s retractor span.
“It is extremely disturbing that a large element of the bridge could be stolen, and that the involvement we are hearing (is) related to some employees at the bottom and perhaps ‘money people’ at the higher level. We have asked the police people to pursue the matter,” Benn told reporters.
Three staffers of the bridge had been held and were subsequently released.
“It disrupted the operations of the repairs, but happily the operations were finished in fairly good order, and I will have to congratulate the manager and his workers for getting the job done properly.”
Residents in the Mahaica Creek area recalled seeing the pontoon passing. But there are questions how the pontoon, which is by no means a small vessel, managed to pass the Georgetown authorities.
These are questions being asked by MARAD and the Coast Guard, Benn disclosed.
Earlier this week, officials from bridge and police recovered four winches that were affixed to the pontoon and removed.
The winches were dumped on a deserted section of the Mahaica Old Road, near Bygeval, early Tuesday, several kilometres from where the pontoon was found.
Using torches, the thieves had cut off the winches, and from all indications, they abandoned them to avoid capture while they were transporting it to a safe location. The four winches are said to be worth in excess of $2M.
It is believed that the vessel may have disappeared between last week Wednesday and Thursday evening. It was discovered missing early Friday, hours before major works were scheduled to commence – to replace sections of the retractor span.
Following the discovery, reports were made to the police and Public Works Minister.
It is unclear how the pontoon was removed from the Harbour Bridge, towed all the way into the Atlantic Ocean, and through the Mahaica Creek, without being noticed.
It is believed that a tug may have been used to steal the pontoon, a theory that remained puzzling for the police and the bridge authorities, since the area where it was secured is a busy one.
Kaieteur News was told over the weekend that the authorities have the name of a city businessman, linked to the auto sales sector, who may have advanced over $1.5M for the vessel to be secretly removed and taken to the Mahaica Creek area.
It is believed that there were attempts to sink the pontoon as there was a suspicious hole on the body.
A decision was taken to transport the recovered pontoon via the road because of river costs.