25 Venezuelan migrants reported missing after boat sinks

At least 25 Venezuelans have been declared missing after a boat carrying them sunk en route to the island of Trinidad on April 25, 2019. (Illustration photo from Shutterstock)
Updated 26 April 2019

25 Venezuelan migrants reported missing after boat sinks

  • The victims are thought to migrants fleeing Venezuela's worsening political and economic crisis
  • At least nine others from the sunken boat had been pulled alive from the water,

CARACAS, Venezuela: Search teams combed the Caribbean on Thursday for 25 possible Venezuelan migrants missing after a boat sank in rough seas headed to the island of Trinidad, authorities said.
At least nine others from the sunken boat had been pulled alive from the water, while officials said they were struggling to pin down exactly how many people had gone missing.
The number initially believed to be on the boat increased because officials discovered that several onboard had not been listed as approved crew members or passengers, said Lt. Kerron Valere of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard.
The small craft left Venezuela on Tuesday and overturned in the sea at some point not far from shore, Valere said in a statement.
The Venezuelan government did not immediately make public comments about the accident involving suspected migrants.
Valere said Venezuela was leading the search within that nation’s waters but the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard was assisting. He said the official manifest listed 25 people on the boat, but authorities had determined that at least 34 were on the vessel.
Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Robert Alcalá said that 25 boarded in the Venezuelan port of Güiria but others illegally got on at another stop along the coast. He said fishermen had rescued several people after the sinking.
Dozens of relatives of the missing were in Güiria anxiously waiting for word back from the search vessels, he said.
Alcalá told The Associated Press that Venezuela’s economic crunch of hyperinflation and food shortages drove the passengers — mostly women — onto the boat.
“They go to Trinidad because of the economic situation in this country,” he said.
In recent years, an estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans have fled the crisis-wracked country, where a political struggle is now playing out between US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó and socialist President Nicolás Maduro.
Most of Venezuela’s migrants travel by land into neighboring Colombia and Brazil, but others overload fishing boats to cross the sometimes deadly Caribbean waters to nearby islands.
Migrants often go to border cities and some Caribbean islands to work in the sex industry, allowing them to send money home to families back in Venezuela.
In January 2018, more than two dozen migrants were never found after a boat from Venezuela smashed onto rocks on the nearby Dutch island of Curacao. Officials said two people survived.
The missing boat overturned in strong waves near the island of Patos, a few miles off the Venezuelan coast. Some survivors were found drifting up to 34 miles (55 kilometers) from where the boat sank.
Seven security force vessels were searching for the missing, an official from the civil protection agency said. The official spoke to AP only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The online news website Daily Express quoted a Venezuelan living in Trinidad who said her sister could not be located. The 21-year-old was headed to the island to flee Venezuela because she said it lacked food and hospital care.


US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

Updated 25 min 25 sec ago

US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

  • The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran and Venezuela
  • As commercial traders increasingly shun Venezuela, Maduro's government has been turning to Iran

MIAMI: US federal prosecutors are seeking to seize four tankers sailing toward Venezuela with gasoline supplied by Iran, the latest attempt to disrupt ever-closer trade ties between the two heavily sanctioned anti-American allies.
The civil-forfeiture complaint filed late Wednesday in the District of Columbia federal court alleges that the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
“The profits from these activities support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” prosecutor Zia Faruqui alleges in the complaint.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, said any attempt by the US to prevent Iran's lawful trading with any country of its choosing would be an act of “piracy, pure and simple.”
“This is a direct threat to international peace and security and in contravention of international law including the UN Charter,” he said in a statement.
The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. In May, it issued an advisory urging the global maritime industry to be on the lookout for tactics to evade sanctions like dangerous ship-to-ship transfers and the turning off of mandatory tracking devices — both techniques used in recent oil deliveries to and from both Iran and Venezuela.
The campaign appears to be working.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on eight vessels that were recently found to have transported Venezuelan crude. The move followed an attempted auction Wednesday by federal marshals in Houston of 100,000 barrels of gasoline seized from a Greek-managed ship whose owner suspected the cargo was heading toward Venezuela. None of the five parties at the auction agreed to the minimum $2.5 million bid.
As commercial traders increasingly shun Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro's socialist government has been increasingly turning to Iran.
In May, Maduro celebrated the arrival of five Iranian tankers delivering badly needed fuel supplies to alleviate shortages that have led to days-long gas lines even in the capital, Caracas, which is normally spared such hardships. Despite sitting atop the world's largest crude reserves, Venezuela doesn't produce enough domestically-refined gasoline and has seen its overall crude production plunge to the lowest in over seven decades amid the ongoing crisis and fallout from US sanctions.
We are “two rebel nations, two revolutionary nations that will never kneel down before US imperialism,” Maduro said at the time. “Venezuela has friends in this world, and brave friends at that.”
The flotilla’s arrival angered the Trump administration, which struck back by sanctioning the five Iranian captains of the vessels.
The four tankers named in the complaint filed Wednesday — the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna — are currently transporting to Venezuela 1.1 million barrels of gasoline obtained via risky ship-to-ship transfers, prosecutors allege. Of the four, the Bella is currently sailing near the Philippines, ship tracking data shows, while the Pandi appears to have turned off its satellite tracking system on June 29 after having spent two weeks between Iran and the UAE. The other two were last spotted in May — the Bering near Greece and the Luna sailing between Oman and Iran.
One of the companies involved in the shipment to Venezuela, the Avantgarde Group, was previously linked to the Revolutionary Guard and attempts to evade US sanctions, according to prosecutors. An affiliate of Avantgarde facilitated the purchase for the Revolutionary Guard of the Grace 1, a ship seized last year by Britain on US accusations that it was transporting oil to Syria.
Iran denied the charges and the Grace 1 was eventually released. But the seizure nonetheless triggered an international standoff in which Iran retaliated by seizing a British-flagged vessel.
According to the asset forfeiture complaint, an unnamed company in February invoiced Avantgarde for a $14.9 million cash payment for the sale of the gasoline aboard the Pandi. Nonetheless, a text message between Mandanipour and an unnamed co-conspirator suggest the voyage had encountered difficulties.
“The ship owner doesn't want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed We will also buy the ship,” according to the message, an excerpt of which was included in the complaint.