SKN police clueless of whereabouts of escaped Antiguan crewmember, status of migrant smuggling probe

Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Ambassador Lionel Hurst (Social media photo)
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

[email protected]

As investigators continue to search for one of the crew members suspected to have caused the La Belle Michelle tragedy who was said to be an Antiguan citizen, it remains unclear as to who is actually investigating the matter.

In late March, approximately 30 Africans and three crew members — all believed to be Antiguans — left the island in a late-night smuggling attempt to reach the US Virgin Islands from which asylum to the United States mainland could be easily sought.

However, the number of passengers on board severely exceeded the small boat’s capacity, leading the vessel capsizing off the shores of St Kitts.

Sixteen of those originally on board were rescued with the others presumed dead.

However, there has been since no word as to any charges laid against any of the surviving crew members or those who would have organised the smuggling trip.

According to Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst, authorities in St Kitts and Nevis have sole authority to investigate this matter since the incident occurred within their waters.

“When they left Antigua and Barbuda, they were outside of our jurisdiction and as a consequence, investigations are taking place in St Kitts and Nevis but not in Antigua and Barbuda.

“We have just relied upon the St Kitts and Nevis police to inform us of how they are proceeding with their investigations and what their findings are, but we are not a part of the investigations,” Hurst said on Thursday.

In April, the St Kitts Commissioner of Police reported that two Antiguans were being investigated on suspicion of human trafficking, but no charges were ever reported to have been laid.

However, when Observer media contacted Deputy Commissioner Cromwell Henry of the Royal St Christopher and Nevis Police Force for an update into the island’s investigations, we were informed that ‘Antigua were handling the situation.’

Yesterday, Observer media enquired of police officials at the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda about the status of the investigation, however the PRO, Inspector Frankie Thomas was unable to address our queries at the time.

In early April, the government via Cabinet spokesperson, Minister Melford Nicholas stated that Antigua would be willing to receive the Africans back from St Kitts as Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that investigations into the matter will occur.

However, after weeks of no action on the promise and only a day after the escape by some survivors from the St Peter Community Centre in St Kitts, where they were housed at the time, the Antigua and Barbuda government announced a reversal of that decision, claiming that the survivors had shown a likelihood to seek another smuggling route in their efforts to the US.

One of the crewmembers, Nicholas Areche, has not been seen since he escaped alongside fellow survivors in April, but while the Africans were swiftly found within days, Areche has disappeared from the public eye.

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