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Feb 23, 2021

Coastal Piracy – An Interagency Approach to Combating Criminal Network at Sea

“Square grouper” coming ashore on Belize’s coastline used to be the main traces left behind by regional drug traffickers. But now boat engine thefts, attacks on island homes and fishermen are giving Belizean authorities another glimpse into this lucrative trade, and the local players involved. News Five’s Duane Moody has more on the fight against crimes at sea.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Wet drops, as part of the transnational narco-trafficking trade, were once a prevailing issue when policing the coastal waters of Belize. There was a flurry of reports of bales of cocaine from South American countries floating at sea.  While that crime has become almost non-existent over the years, the now pervasive issue is that of piracy at the hands of locals, who have been posing as fishermen.


Gregory Soberanis

Commander Gregory Soberanis, Acting Commandant, Belize Coast Guard

“These criminal networks use the guise of fishermen to control the sea routes. And they use the guise of fishermen to commit these crimes at sea. And really and truly it is part of a bigger operation. The guise of fishermen is really being used to fund their narcotic activities.”


Traditionally, the reports of coastal piracy increase during the months of January and February, as the lobster season is coming to a close. Fishermen are targeted by armed thieves, who would attack in the dark of the night and relieve fishers of not only their produce, but also their outboard engines. In some cases, the fishers are injured in the process. Since the start of 2021, there have been four reported cases of attacks on fishermen at sea in southern Belize. The Fisheries Department is concerned about the effect that it is having on the multimillion dollar industry that provides five percent of the country’s gross domestic product.


Hampton Gamboa

Hampton Gamboa, Operations Manager, Fisheries Department

“Sea piracy on an annual basis, worldwide and internationally is a billion dollar operation. It is not so much in the Caribbean and Central America.   In Belize, over the past month, if you want to put a figure in the loss of these fishermen when you add up the vessel, engines that were lost in these robberies and their sea products, you are looking at a minimum of forty-five thousand dollars that was lost.”


Commander Gregory Soberanis

“We intend to protect the interest of our blue economy, fisher folks and mariners who contribute significantly to our economy.”


The criminal activity is not limited to fishermen and mariners. Most recently, there was an attack on an Austrian national at a private island resort off the Placencia Peninsula; he was shot before a number of armed men robbed his home of cash and got away with his boat. The boat was discovered the following day without its engines. That incident, coupled with increasing reports of stolen engines by boaters, has led to an interagency strategy to stop these criminals in their tracks.


Chester Williams

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police

“There are three groups involved. One of the groups that we dealt with last week, they were charged with the various fisheries offenses and then they were also charged with being a member of a gang under the crime control and criminal justice act and many of them were remanded to prison on Friday. But we have two other groups that we believe are operating within the area and they frequent the Stann Creek District and Honduras. So it would appear that whenever they do their crime, whatever they would steal, they take to Honduras in exchange for guns and drugs and then they come back to Belize.”


Commander Gregory Soberanis

“Over the past six weeks, we’ve conducted four strike operations where we’ve seen over fourteen persons being detained and were handed over to the Dangriga police; five assets were seized, significant fines were levied against the perpetrators who committed these crimes. So the results reflect the efforts that the law enforcement authorities are making in our sea spaces. Once it is deemed and we determine and confirm that the camps that these guys operate from are illegal camps, those camps are destroyed.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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