The 13 people who reportedly left Marabella on joyride to Tobago, in a pirogue, that ended up drifting to Venezuela returned home yesterday but some of them hid their faces from media cameras. The 11 men and two women covered their faces with T-shirts and other pieces of clothing as they walked to the immigration office at Crews Inn, Chagauramas, to be processed. At 2.35 pm, a Coast Guard escorted the commercial vessel which brought the 13 people, including 11 Trinidadians and two Jamaicans, to the jetty.
The group shouted to the media that the Coast Guard abandoned them after they went missing last Friday. Members of the group said T&T had not done anything for them and that they loved Venezuela. They began chanting “Chavez vive, la lucha sigue,” a phrase which translates to mean Chavez lives, the struggle continues, a chant popular in Venezuela about their previous president Hugo Chavez who died in 2013.
Trevor Cooke, a Marabella resident whose two sons were on the vessel, said he was happy to see his sons home. The Seven C’s, a private commercial vessel, which brought the group home, cost taxpayers around US$4,000, said Dr Bhoe Tewarie, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs. One member of the group said they were hopeful to be rescued even after their mobile phones had gone out of range and the two female passengers began crying.
While they were on the vessel, one passenger, who gave his name as Darren, said they had tried catching fish to eat. They all said they were treated well by the Venezuelans and received three meals per day and learned a little bit of Spanish from the Guardia Nacional. They also praised the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. “They Air Guard and Coast Guard disappointed us. They could have found us. We were right there but they didn’t look,” Darren said.
Some of the group seemed to be angry at media, asking why local media didn’t go looking for them with their cameras. “You know how much trauma people went through and all yuh in our face.” one man said.
Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Bhoe Tewarie, who was on hand to welcome the group back home, said the private vessel was necessary to satisfy the national security issue of both T&T and Venezuela as T&T’s Coast Guard could not enter Venezuelan waters to retrieve them.
“The process worked very well but it took time. There was tremendous collaboration between the Permanent Secretary at the ministry and myself and then all the relevant ministries at different stages, the Ministry of National Security and Ministry of Transport and then finally the Ministry of Finance because of customs,” Tewarie said. He also praised the collaboration among the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Venezuelan Embassy and the Jamaican Embassy in Trinidad.
Both Venezuelan Ambassador Coromoto Godoy and Jamaican Ambassador David Prendergast were also present to greet the group. Tewarie said the main challenge in getting the group back to T&T had to do with citizenship requirements. “Some of them had to get passports or birth papers or national identification. That caused a little problem because we couldn’t process them without knowing that they were bona fide Trinidadians.”
Godoy said she was glad it came to a happy ending and said the collaboration between Venezuela and T&T was great. She said Venezuela was committed to developing relationships with T&T.