Disasters & Accidents

Venezuela lacks resources to conduct maritime search, rescue operations

By Genesis Carrero Soto

Caracas, Sep 20 (EFE).- More than 100 days have passed since the Zorro Viejo and the Santo Amaro II disappeared in Venezuelan waters. Since then, the families of the nine missing crewmembers have been regretting the absence of an exclusive maritime search and salvage service.

The lack of a specialized unit with its own equipment forces search, dredging, rescue and recovery operations in the seas off the Venezuelan coast to depend on the willingness of entities that provide human and technical services for a task they are not fully equipped to handle.

The general secretary of the National Maritime Rescue and Safety Organization (ONSA), Luis Guillermo Iniciarte, told EFE that “In Venezuela there’s no maritime search and rescue service that works as established by law,” but he added that currently the authorities are preparing to form a rescue unit.

Nevertheless, those who presently have relatives who have been lost at sea aren’t being helped by future promises and say they feel “abandoned” given the lack of searches for their loved ones.

The people most affected are those who continue to wait for some word about their relatives who have gone missing at sea. One of those people is Victor Rodriguez, who said that five months ago his uncle and three cousins disappeared when the Zorro Viejo disappeared.

Communication was lost with the vessel 72 hours after it set sail on April 19 from Nueva Esparta.

“Unfortunately, we Venezuelans don’t have that support,” Rodriguez told EFE regarding the backing of the authorities in the investigation to find the missing men.

He said that the authorities have barely done anything to search for his uncle and cousins and the men’s relatives are “adrift,” since officials claim that they lack the gasoline, the aircraft and the vessels to undertake search operations.

But Rodriguez is not losing hope of finding the fishermen and he said he prefers to think that they’re “still out fishing” but just haven’t returned to shore yet.

The same hope is maintained by the relatives of the five men who were fishing on board the Santo Amaro II, which was reported missing on May 14 when it had not contacted maritime authorities for the past 10 days after setting out from northwestern Falcon state.

Doris Vargas, the sister of the boat’s captain, complained that the search for the men ended after they’d been missing for 42 days and called on the Venezuelan prosecutor’s office to investigate the case.

Iniciarte, who heads one of the few organizations devoted to maritime rescue in Venezuela, said that the problem goes beyond the lack of resources and specialized equipment for search operations since the lack of “empirical” preparation and “sea people” – a reference to local fishermen and boat pilots – is also a big problem.

“Normally, vessels end up in an unfortunate situation because the crew was not properly prepared,” Iniciarte emphasized, adding that another common element in shipwrecks or missing vessels is the lack of communications equipment or lifesaving equipment on board fishing, sports, tourism or recreational boats that set sail from Venezuelan ports.

He noted that Venezuelan coastal waters are divided into 17 port captaincies governed by the states via the National Aquatic Spaces Institute (INEA), the institution tasked with registering marine voyages and trips but which in practice has difficulties doing its job because of lack of information and resources.

“We’re working in a big sector of the national ocean waters … under conditions from the last century and we need everyone – the users and the crews and the authorities – to move forward and start to get the necessary teams and marine safety equipment for the 21st century,” he said.

Meanwhile, however, the relatives have only their hopes to sustain them, although the INEA is – for the first time – establishing a registry of “auxiliary organizations” with the ability to help “as volunteers” in aquatic search and rescue operations.

EFE gcs/sb/rrt/bp

Related Articles

Back to top button