Coast Guard incident with Grenadian crew could disrupt trade

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LAWYERS for the crew of a Grenadian cargo ship that travels weekly to Trinidad and Tobago to trade want to know if the March 2 incident involving the Coast Guard was isolated or agency policy security.

Attorneys Om Lalla, Derek Ali and Derek Balliram are representing the seven Grenadians and Trinidadian crew member of the MV Rayniah J.

On Friday, Lalla wrote to the Chief of the Defense Staff, Air Commodore Darryl Daniel, for answers about the incident.

His letter was copied to Coast Guard Chief Captain Don Polo, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and Acting Police Commissioner Mc Donald Jacob.

Lalla also asked for assurances that the crew would not be prevented from continuing their normal commercial activities between Trinidad and Grenada and that the incident would not affect the free trade agreement and the right of free passage guaranteed by the Caricom.

He also argued that the Coast Guard’s actions towards its clients were “disproportionate, unjustified and contrary to the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas”.

Lalla gave Daniel seven days to respond.

On March 2, a report by the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) said eight of the ship’s crew were met with hostility by Coast Guard officers, which escalated into an assault on the crew captain. and a crew member. The report states that the crew member was seriously injured and now requires surgery.

Lalla’s letter said the crew was on the MV Rayniah J, near Bocas, in TT territorial waters off the coast of Chaguaramas, when they had an encounter with the Coast Guard.

He said the MV Rayniah J was an 85ft freighter loaded with heavy cargo and moving at a speed of seven knots.

The ship has been trading with TT since 2016, making some 48 voyages a year before covid19 restrictions were implemented, compared to around 24 voyages now.

Lalla said the vessel has entered TT waters without incident in the past and for this voyage the vessel’s agent sent advance notice of its arrival, names of crew and nature of cargo.

He said that on March 2, the coastguard boat did not establish radio contact with the crew, but flashed its lights and maneuvered the craft alongside the ship, shouting obscenities and ordering them to stop.

Lalla said it should have been obvious that a ship of this size could not stop immediately, because of its cargo and its engines.

He said the crew put one of the engines in neutral to slow the boat while a crew member got down to manually put the other engine in neutral.

Lalla said without warning, however, that a coastguard officer boarded the boat with a high-powered gun, threatening and hurling abuse at the crew.

He said they were threatened again when it emerged Coast Guard officers were unhappy with the captain’s efforts to steer the boat towards Staubles Bay.

At the base, the captain and another crew member were allegedly beaten before an unidentified coast guard officer ordered them and their ship was released.

“The physical abuse inflicted on my clients was unjustified, disproportionate and illegal.”

Lalla said it was “deeply disturbing” that the Coast Guard was unable to identify a commercial vessel. He said relations between the two islands have always been cordial, with a long history of mutually beneficial maritime activities and trade.

He warned that the incident had the potential to “disrupt these good relations and have diplomatic implications”.

Lalla asked that all evidence of the incident be preserved and if there was any video footage or recordings he wanted copies.

He also asked the CDS to confirm if this was a routine stop and search or if the crew was being targeted and discriminated against.

The attorney asked for journal entries; declarations; the name and rank of each officer involved; and the name of the commanding officer who authorized the search and detention

He also wants to know the nature and extent of the threat Coast Guard officers faced to cause them to use force on a commercial vessel and any Coast Guard policies that apply to the use of force. ‘incident.

In a statement last weekend, the Coast Guard said an investigation had been launched to determine what happened.

He said: “The Coast Guard takes all allegations of this nature very seriously as they affect the public perception of the Formation, which can lead to a breach of trust which is a key element to the success of its mission.

“This ongoing investigation will involve all relevant parties upon its completion. The Coast Guard wishes to assure the public that every effort is being made to resolve this matter quickly. »

The Coast Guard said it and its members uphold the highest standards of conduct and in no way support abuse of power and authority.

Earlier this week, Hinds told the Senate that the interceptor crew involved had been removed from duty at sea pending investigations.

In the letter, Lalla said the announced investigation offered little comfort to her clients and the many people who make a living between the two islands.

He also said these types of investigations are “notoriously” slow, long and drawn-out and his clients continue to suffer injuries, financial loss and damages.


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