By Orville Williams
The Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) Coast Guard executed a massive search operation last week, in hopes of recovering a vessel reported missing.
Speaking to Observer on the weekend, Commanding Officer of the ABDF Coast Guard, Lieutenant Commander Elroy Skerritt, explained that the initial report came from a station in Montserrat.
The station reported to the ABDF Coast Guard that it had picked up a call from a fishing vessel, claiming to be in distress. The report indicated that the vessel was sinking and there were four persons on board at the time.
The Lieutenant Commander said the report prompted action from the ABDF Coast Guard, which collaborated with other agencies to carry out the search operation.
“Based on that information, the Coast Guard deployed in search of this vessel that was in distress [and] we would have searched a wide area, over 200 square nautical miles. [We] searched the area for in excess of 20 hours [and] we would have used, as well, a lot of resources,” Skerrit disclosed.
“We also got assistance from the Montserrat Marine Police, who deployed their cutter – the Heliconia Star – to assist with the search. We got assistance from the French, who deployed a helicopter to the area on two occasions to assist as well [and] we also utilized the service of the Department of Environment with their drone to search the area.”
Up to Saturday though, there was still no sign of the vessel or its occupants and Skerrit said the absence of the missing vessel and/or missing persons reports is a worrying sign.
“Although we made all those efforts to search for this missing vessel, to this time, we have not seen the vessel or the individuals who were reported to be on board.
“It is very worrying, because [after three days passed] no one had reported a vessel missing or reported their loved ones missing. Under this type of situation where you have individuals who are missing, you expect someone to come forward and make a report. We have not had such reports to this date (June 13).”
This strange situation has led the authorities to question the credibility of the initial report. Skerritt said its has led to the belief that the call could be a fake. He took the time to discourage these types of practical jokes, as they negatively affect the Coast Guard’s operations.
“[We are] left to wonder whether or not this is a legitimate case, so the whole issue of prank calls and the case being a hoax basically comes into play. We just want to caution the general public that prank calls are not allowed. It’s very sad to engage in that type of practice, because what actually happens is that individuals would have activated the emergency services unnecessarily. [That] basically leads to the wastage of scarce resources.
“Prank calls are an offence and individuals who engage in this type of practice can be prosecuted, so we want to admonish the general public that individuals who are caught can be brought to the court and be prosecuted for the offence,” Skerritt added.
The ABDF Coast Guard is asking any members of the public with information on the missing vessel, to contact 462-3206 or share the information in person at the ABDF Coast Guard Base in Deepwater Harbour.