Govt must address senseless loss of lives on border crossing

Dear Editor,
This is in reference to your news reports on the Corentyne River drowning. It is a senseless loss of multiple lives. The drowning made the news internationally. There is so much sadness. It hurts very badly. It is awful, terrible. Three families and communities are devastated.
Government must take a proactive position in patrolling the Corentyne River, or Guyana-Suriname border, to save lives, and not to have patrol officers merely to deter illegal trade. Patrols must also take measures to protect lives, and not just to “harass passengers” or “hustle” boat captains for a “small piece”.
The tragedy could have been avoided with the speedboat simply going to shore, quickly dropping off the passengers, and then heading back to Nickerie coast. Travelling in the night is perilous, especially during dark moons. Indeed, the captain of the speedboat was reckless to drop off the passengers far from shore in waist deep water; his assessment of the depth of the water and the tide was off; this led to the drowning of the three individuals.
There was carelessness and blame to be shared. One needs to look at how such tragedies could be avoided, and take appropriate measures to save lives, and not punish people who make the perilous journeys.
The captain of the speedboat and a colleague, a relative of one of the victims who made that fatal journey, are being held in custody for violating COVID-19 regulations that prohibit cross-border travel. That is the source of the problem. The governments of both countries, law enforcers or patrols, and objective analysts must pay attention to how attempts at enforcing the COVID rules and bribery cost the lives of the three innocent passengers. The authorities did not plan for those who would break the rules putting lives at risk. The authorities should have expected people to defy the rules, and plan accordingly to put a life-saving plan in place as coast guards do off the coast of Florida for Cuban and Haitian refugees, and on the Mediterranean Sea between Africa and Europe.
Back-track transportation has been going on for millenniums. It can’t be stopped. It should be regulated. Speedboats ply the route all the time. Just last month I visited Skeldon and interacted with boat captains. In spite of COVID regulations stopping cross border movement, people still cross the border, preferring the evening hours, when there are no patrols on the coast line. Night travel is riskiest, and not unexpectedly, it was in the evening that the three victims lost their lives.
The hazards of cross-border travel have to be reduced or removed altogether. Had the authorities been a little liberal with enforcement of the rules, closing their eyes to passengers, allowing boats (not goods) to come to shore illegally when the ferry is out of service, lives would not have been lost. In spite of travel ban, people would still cross the border. Would it not have been better to allow the boats to land to avoid loss of lives and making global news headlines that describe Guyana as uncaring towards people wanting to visit families.
One must not completely absolve the Coast Guard of this incident. The captain of the boat of that ill-fated incident dropped off the passengers far from coast to avoid detection by Coast Guard patrols seeking to squeeze money from them. Some patrol officers seize at opportunities of illegal plying of waters for their self-enrichment, allowing boats to dock if the money is right. They, some police in tow, squeeze the boat captains. They demand big bribes, rather than a small thing, to close their eyes to boats landing illegally. That is a cause of the drowning that no one wishes to address. Instead, all blame goes to the two captains of the speedboat that dropped off the three ill-fated passengers on a sand reef in high wave, turbulent water. The deaths don’t satisfy the sense of purpose of the Coast Guard patrols, or the customs officers that are posted to deter illegal trading between the borders. Why weren’t patrols on duty in the evening for such ill-fated incidents? White man plan for such eventuality in America and Europe.

Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram