Vessels sailing in the vicinity of Trinidad and Tobago are now under threat of being the victims of piracy for the first since the 1700s. According to a report from the Washington Post, in the wake of Venezuela’s economic and societal collapse, criminals desperate to earn a living have taken up the centuries-old crime and are attacking yachts and fishing vessels along the coast of South America.
Jeremy McDermott of Insight Crime, a nonprofit that studies organized crime in the region told the Washington Post that “It’s criminal chaos, a free-for-all, along the Venezuelan coast.”
Although there hasn’t been much research into piracy in the Caribbean, one study from the nonprofit group Oceans Beyond Piracy found that pirate attacks in the region rose by 163 percent between 2016 and 2017. Some experts fear that pirate activity and other crimes in the Caribbean Sea will increase as conditions in the socialist country continue to deteriorate.
“This reminds me of how the problems started off the coast of eastern Africa," said Roodal Moonilal, a politician from Trinidad and Tobago while speaking to the Washington Post. “What we’re seeing – the piracy, the smuggling – it’s the result of Venezuela’s political and economic collapse.”
While the region has seen traffickers use ports in Trinidad to move drugs from Colombia and Venezuela to North America in the past, the new pirates are ratcheting up the violence to levels that haven’t been seen by mariners in the region since the time of Blackbeard.
One witness recounted his experience of being attacked by the pirates to reporters and stated that they were “doused with hot oil, hacked with machetes and thrown overboard, then their boats were stolen."
Although Venezuela has a coast guard, one anonymous Venezuelan port official told the Washington Post that ” Venezuelan coast guard officers have been boarding anchored vessels and demanding money and food,” leaving merchant ships and fishing vessels no choice but to anchor further away from the coast.