Maritime 'cat and mouse' game in the Gulf as fishermen, Petrotrin square off on seismic surveys

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Fisher-folk have long been against what they call 'seismic bombings.'

The Fishermen and Friends of the Sea group has written letters, appealed to Parliamentarians and even President Anthony Carmona. But those efforts were in vain.

Seismic Surveillance, which is meant to point to oil-rich regions below the ocean floor began last week in the Gulf of Paria - a region already hard hit by multiple oil spills and so fisherfolk turned up their programme of non-violent civil disobedience by taking their protests to the sea.

In Otaheite Bay, fisherfolk from Otaheite and La Brea gathered just before dawn on Saturday.

They readied their vessels, mounting engines, getting fuel and then taking fuel tanks and supplies aboard for what they hoped would be a long, but successful trip.

Their plan was not simply to protest and get attention - they wanted to stop the seismic survey ship in its tracks.

With the early morning sun at their backs, they cast off from Otaheite Bay.

The fishermen from La Brea and Otaheite were met by their brethren from Claxton Bay and San Fernando.

From there, dozens of boats made their way towards the site of the seismic survey, off the coast of Point-A-Pierre, where two ships are currently operating in tandem.

But even before they could get close to their target, the fishermen attracted the attention of Petrotrin Police who dashed in to intercept the pirogues.

Even with faster, bigger and more powerful vessels, the efforts of Petrotrin Police were frustrated. They could halt the progress of a pirogue or two, but they could not stop them all.

Several fishermen told C News they were prepared to face guns if need be to protect the fishery. But on Saturday morning, the only thing pointed in their direction from the authorities were cameras.

The convoy of fishing boats continued their pursuit of one of the ships being used in the seismic survey, with the Petrotrin Police boats in hot pursuit.

The police boats used their powerful engines to churn up wake, crossing in front of the bows of the smaller fishing boats to slow them down.

Coincidentally, it was a tactic that the fishermen planned to use as well. Using their greater numbers, they found their way into the path of the seismic survey ship and slowed their pace, forcing the ship to slow to a crawl to match their pace and allow the ship's captain a chance to think of his next move.

Mr. Gary Aboud of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea said: “He cannot stop because the cables are in the water. He is doing the bombing already. But it is illegal so we are going to go in front the ship and stop it. But you have to be ready to pull out at a moment’s notice because the ship cannot stop.”

A maritime cat and mouse game ensued as the seismic survey ship turned and sped over to areas uncovered by the pirogues and Petrotrin's Police offered whatever resistance they could muster to slow down the pursuit.

Environmental Engineer Cathal Healy-Singh told C News that one of the key concerns with the survey is that when granting approval, the Environmental Management Authority did not require data collection to determine the extent to which the fish population would be affected.

He said the survey, which uses explosive blasts of air to help create a sonic image of the earth below the sea floor, has long term-ramifications as well.

“The longer term is the cutting off of the hatcheries and the propagation of the fish and these things are not understood clearly and that is why it is so important that Environmental Impact Assessments be carried out.”

The fishermen, in the end were out-manoeuvred by the bigger boat, but not for a lack of trying - they simply didn't have the fuel to continue the chase and the boats headed for shore.

Their action is sure to get the attention of the relevant authorities. In the meantime, the fisherfolk wait to see what, if any, action will be taken.

Written by C News