Heist in Curacao…Gold boat departed from Suriname
- Vessel registration leads to empty lot in Guyana
As local authorities scramble to ascertain whether a multi-million-dollar shipment of gold stolen in a daring heist in Curacao on Friday came from Guyana, there are strong indications that the bulk of it is from Suriname.
According to government sources, the vessel, the Summer Bliss, is indeed registered in Guyana to one Deo Shivpaul. The local address on the registration is given as Canal # 2, but checks by local officials found that the location is an empty lot, adding even more mystery to the incident.
According to the sources, the vessel would normally be moored at the mouth of the Berbice River, between Guyana and Suriname.
Sources have said now that boat never did left from Guyana but from Suriname.
On Friday, gunmen disguised as police officers raided the fishing vessel which was moored at the port in Willemstad, Curacao, an Antillean island located off Venezuela.
In what appeared to be a well planned heist, the gunmen using three cars beat the Guyanese captain and held the three crewmen, also from Guyana, at bay with guns. They later escaped with 70 gold bars worth US$11.5M (G$2.3B) that had been on the boat.
The boat had left four days before from Guyana, one crewman reportedly told investigators in Curacao.
The Guyana government immediately denied knowledge of the gold, saying that it never gave permission for gold to be shipped by any boat.
The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) also denied that it members may have been involved.
Government yesterday convened an emergency meeting on the issue, warning a zero tolerance on smuggling.
Kaieteur News was told that from all indications, the bulk of the gold belonged to traders in Suriname and to a Chinese mining outfit.
A few ounces also reportedly belonged to a Guyanese.
Because Suriname’s royalties and taxes are lower than Guyana, traders have been trekking to the neighbouring country, at great risk of seizures from authorities there and from even robbers.
The Guyana government has long admitted that some of its gold is being smuggled and not declared as the law demands.
There are a number of licensed traders and even fewer authorized exporters of gold.
According to one knowledgeable trader yesterday, government should issue more export licences to help reduce smuggling.
President Donald Ramotar recently called for a common regional tax regime which would discourage smuggling.
Friday’s incident would worry government because of the taxes that would have been lost if it is indeed ascertained that the gold was being smuggled from Guyana.
Last year, gold declarations amounted to over 360,000 ounces. It is believed that the actual amount produced could more than double that.
Guyana’s rough terrain has made it difficult for the regulator, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, to properly monitor miners.
Yesterday, the Huffington Post website reported police in Curacao as saying that they have several leads, including the licence plate number of one of three cars used in Friday’s getaway. The police there have been asking for the public’s help in tracking the suspects, police spokesman Reggie Huggins told The Associated Press.
“There is information coming in,” he said. “We are getting reactions from the public, but we still have to sort it out.”
Police have said that at least six men were involved, but no one has been arrested in a case that surprised authorities in the Dutch Caribbean Island.
Huggins said police are still interviewing the ship’s captain and three crew members, who contacted officials in Curacao about the incoming gold shipment as part of regular security protocol. The gold bars weigh about 216 kilograms (476 pounds).
Kaieteur News understands that the gold was heading to a buyer in Curacao.
Police declined to say where the gold was being delivered, but one crew member, who identified himself to the AP as Raymond Emmanuel, said they were delivering the gold to an unidentified company in Curacao.
Emmanuel said the crew left Guyana on Tuesday and arrived in Curacao early Friday.
Officials reportedly said there is no record of the ship, named “Summer Bliss,” leaving Guyana’s Port Georgetown Harbour, adding that it could have left from a pier at any of the country’s numerous rivers.
Curacao’s main newspaper, the Amigoe, yesterday, gave the ages of the three Guyanese crew members as 53, 47 and 39 years, with the captain being 51.
From the police investigation, a white car, an old model Mitsubishi Lancer, drove up to the Willemstad port early and honked at the gate. The guard thought the driver was a member of the Customs and let the man inside. The suspect parked near the fishing boat.
A few seconds later, a red Mitsubishi Lancer and a gray Hyundai Elantra also drove through.
Six masked and armed men came out from the three cars. They all wore ‘hoodies’ and had police jacks.
The men stormed the fishing vessel and under gunpoint pushed the captain to the ground. One of the crewman was gun-butted after asking why his captain was being handled like that. He received injuries to his head and eye.
According to the Amigoe, the robbers apparently knew their way around the ship and went directly to three metal boxes which contained the gold.
Yesterday, government reiterated its zero tolerance for gold smuggling during an emergency meeting with the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) and licenced gold and diamond dealers.
“The Minister (of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud) stated that the President of Guyana and the government are very concerned and are treating the report with a high level of seriousness. As such, the Government and law enforcement sector will work with concerned international authorities to ascertain the source of the gold.”
GGDMA’s President, Patrick Harding, noted that association members have been urged to sell gold to the Guyana Gold Board or authorised dealers.
The Ministry has also been seeking to work with Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela to reduce all forms of illegal mineral trade and will continue to work with all stakeholders of the gold industry to ensure that more stringent measures are implemented and enforced to ensure the legal trade of Guyana’s gold is maintained.
As such, a special task force, which will include representatives from the GGDMA, law enforcement authorities, Customs and Trade Administration, among other stakeholders, has been put together to review the current regulations so as to prevent the smuggling of gold and other minerals.
Guyana has now, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requested help from Curacao for more information.