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— Edghill says GDF, police ranks dispatched by sea, air to locate vessel
— international partners alerted
By Svetlana Marshall
The vessel, which was seen drifting at sea, with an unknown number of decomposed bodies inside, cannot be located, Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill said as he described the situation as both sad and distressing.
The Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), through its Maritime Emergency Rescue Coordination Centre, is leading the search with strong backing from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the Guyana Police Force and the Private Sector as they conduct both aerial and maritime searches within Guyana’s territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“We have had two aerial surveillance covering about five hours of aerial search and we have not had a sighting of that boat,” Minister Edghill said during a press conference at Maritime Boat House on Tuesday in the presence of Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn and Director General of MARAD, Stephen Thomas.
The gruesome discovery was made at approximately 14:04hrs on Monday, some 112 nautical miles from Georgetown, by MT Seamag 20 – a vessel contracted by ExxonMobil, however, attempts to bring it ashore has proven to be extremely challenging, and within hours the vessel was no longer insight.
Minister Edghill explained that upon seeing the vessel with a number of lifeless bodies inside, the crew onboard of MT Seamag 20 immediately made contact with MARAD, and in the process of doing so, sent a number of images of the scene on the boat.
In response, MARAD requested that the vessel, of unknown origin, be towed in by MT Seamag 20, and though permission was sought and granted, the crew found it extremely difficult to tie the tow line unto the smaller vessel amid rough waters.
“By 3pm yesterday [Monday] afternoon they had that permission from their principals to grant the request of the Maritime Administration…Efforts to carry out that exercise proved unsuccessful,” Minister Edghill said.
He said MARAD then asked the crew “to stay and keep an eye on the boat,” while it sought to mobilise other assets and resources, necessary, to bring the boat ashore. But this too had proven to be a challenge due to the rough waters and bad weather.
The boat, Minister Edghill said, was last sighted 19:53hrs on Monday, approximately 83 nautical miles offshore Guyana. It was reportedly drifting in a western direction.
Minister said he along with his Junior Minister of Public Works, Deodat Indar; the Ministry of Home Affairs, Robeson Been and officials attached to the Maritime Emergency Rescue Coordination Centre, spent hours on Monday night exploring every possible option, onshore and offshore.
“Last night (Monday) about 11pm we were able to make contact with a trawler that was closest to the vicinity…and [we] requested of them to proceed to the last area where the boat was sighted to assist in that regard,” he said.
Additionally, on Tuesday morning, two boats off of the North West District out of Morawhanna were deployed with members of GDF Coast Guards and the Guyana Police Force as the search for the vessel widened.
Also on Tuesday, at around 7:18hrs, GDF deployed its first flight out on a reconnaissance mission in an effort to locate the vessel, however, after more than five hours, the efforts had proven to be unsuccessful. At around 17:00hrs on Tuesday, GDF Coast Guards also departed for the general areas onboard a trawler owned by a private sector member.
“So we have three different dispatches of vessels by way of water, two boats off of the North West; one boat that was already out at sea, moving from its position into that general area and this afternoon a dispatched with the Guyana Defence Force Coast Guards, just after 5 o’clock and we have had two aerial surveillance covering about five hours of aerial search. We have not had a sighting of that boat,” Minister Edghill said. ExxonMobil had also dispatched a helicopter and two other vessels to assist with the search but they too reported that they had no sighting.
Minister Edghill said Guyana has contacted its international partners, in particular Suriname, to ascertain whether they had reports of any missing vessel and crew, since Guyana had no such report.
Minister Edghill is hopeful that the vessel could be located by Wednesday. At the moment, the origin of the vessel and the nationality of the crew are unknown.