As the Commission of Inquiry (COI) continues into the deadly high seas attack that occurred in Suriname waters two years ago, the Commissioner of Police, Leslie James, took the stand last Thursday.
He was cross-examined by the secretary of the COI, Attorney-at-law Darren Wade, and head of the COI, Rishi Thakur.
During his lengthy and detailed testimony, the senior officer, who is also the Chairman of the Task Force, stated that there is an existing “fisher folk ad-hoc” although there is a Fisheries Act which the fisher folk are required to conform to by way of licensing. He added that he has observed that there are breaches of the Act with fisher folk ultimately being non-compliant with the current law.
James said based on observations, “the catch and the engine” are two main factors that attract piracy since on many occasions “the vessels may be found floating but almost all reported cases of piracy there is a report of the missing engine. As Chairman of the Piracy committee, we did discuss and decided that we should have some level of enforcement whereby whenever a vessel is engaged the chassis and the engine number of the respective vessel should be checked and if the engine, chassis or otherwise is found to have been tampered with then it will be seized. That very engine might be a part of the loot of a piracy act committed.”
He added that engines belonging to fisher folk, some part of it is exchanged and placed on another engine. This aspect, he stressed, “should have some amendment with of course the requisite type of penalty if that is found to act as a deterrent.”
He also suggested that there be some amendment to include options to have tracking devices and communication equipment.
James is of the firm opinion that many of the current acts that are in place have not been enacted for a number of years, but in terms of enforcement it may not be enforced with much regularity and that in itself is an issue. A recommendation was also made to have a multiagency approach in all maritime cases since “the singular approach is not necessarily bearing the kind of fruit that we need but with the multiagency approach, it is likely to garner results…have it enacted into law.”
He further said, “This whole thing is sort of like a culture that has been happening for a number of years to the extent that it has become a norm, so to engage in a sudden change there is likely to be a resistance.”
Meanwhile, as it relates to enforcement, the Commissioner of Police stated that there is collaboration between the police and other agencies but that “only happens when there are acts of and report of piracy. In the case where there is a report that there was an incident in the high seas then there will be a joint effort but if it is within the inland areas the GPF will handle that.” He mentioned that the Guyana Police Force has a Marine department and that there is a marine presence in every division and although there are facilities for the maritime officers “they are not optimum, limited vessels so there is a need for more expansion.”
He explained too that there is a Marine section located in New Amsterdam but when questioned by Wade why this is only located in New Amsterdam since there are more reports of piracy on the Corentyne, the senior officer stated that there is monitoring by the GPF inland with persons reporting regularly to them.
James mentioned that for the year 2019 there has been no report of piracy and in addition, there is a decrease in piracy-related crimes. It was however highlighted that despite the drop in piracy, according to police statistics, there are reports “of larceny of vessels, engines and even the catch which require the efforts of the marine police and the GPF but we monitor it on a joint effort and as you know we have a presence of the coastline with the Coastguards.”
He stated that if an attack occurs in the high seas “we have vessels that do not have the capacity to go to the high seas”. James added that in the past there was assistance from the Guyana Defence Force by aerial surveillance but there was a cost attached. This, he said, has forced them to avoid having regular patrols and “until there is a report of piracy then we try to activate that system”.
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