5 fishermen home safe, while a trio of pirates is in custody
While five fishermen are home safe, a trio of pirates is in custody tonight. As we reported on Thursday night, the Belize Coast Guard responded to a robbery twenty miles southeast of Belize City where pirates held up the fisher folks at gunpoint and confiscated their produce. There was a shootout initiated by the pirates and after a high speed chase at sea, the Coast Guard out maneuvered the pirates who are well known to the law. Isani Cayetano went back to the Coast Guard and has an update on that story.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
A high-speed pursuit by the coast guard’s Quick Response Team, in the vicinity of Middle Long Caye on Thursday afternoon, has resulted in the apprehension of a trio of men. Report of an armed robbery in an area approximately twenty miles southeast of Belize City was radioed in to the headquarters of the Belize National Coast Guard sometime after twelve o’clock.
Lt. Greg Soberanis, Operations Officer, Belize National Coast Guard
“Just after midday we received a call from fishermen that they’ve been robbed of their product and individuals had made their escape into a creek of Middle Long Caye.”
The deployment of assets was immediate and before the pirates knew it they were being chased by a patrol boat. Their vessel, registered as Dannica, a mid-sized skiff powered by a fifty horsepower engine, would prove difficult to pin down. A game of cat and mouse followed.
Lt. Greg Soberanis
“We went to the eastern side of Middle Long Caye and proceeded up north where a vessel was sighted. As we approached the vessel it matched the description of the vessel that was given to us by the fishermen. We proceeded to approach the vessel to confirm if that indeed was the vessel when the vessel fled as soon as it realized the coast guard patrol. A hot pursuit ensued and the vessel began to, it was a smaller vessel than ours and it began to conduct evasive maneuvers near the, in the shoals of the reef where our boat has difficulty maneuvering because of the rocks.”
When the vessel finally emerged from the shallow channel, its occupants opened fire on the Boston Whaler. The officers onboard ducked for cover and returned fire, hitting the outboard engine twice.
Lt. Greg Soberanis
“It eventually stopped or became what we call ‘dead in the water’. So we thought it had either ran out of gas or had experienced engine failure but this was not the case. What they were doing in actually was they were allowing the coastguard patrol to come into proximity of firing range. They engaged the coastguard patrol with fire and members of the patrol took cover and subsequently returned fire. The pirates then fled again and began conducting evasive maneuvers once more. They then decided that they would make a run from the area of Rendezvous Caye, where this was happening, back to Middle Long Caye, trying to make it into the creek where it would be difficult for us to go into. But because of the open water we were able to outmaneuver the pirates and their vessel and intercepted the vessel.”
By the time they were able to arrest the vessel and apprehend the trio, the men had already shed their weapons, as well as the produce they had stolen from the fishermen. They were then brought to shore where they were greeted by a team of police officers.
Lt. Greg Soberanis
“Onboard were three individuals. These three individuals are no strangers to the coastguard. In fact, in the past two weeks we’ve been receiving complaints, just fishermen calling, saying that these individuals were stealing products, harvesting illegal lobster and were selling it to the Mexicans. It became a concern for us as the coastguard and we had our patrol operating in that particular area just to show law enforcement presence. So these individuals were eventually apprehended, brought to coastguard headquarters and were handed over to the police to be processed.”
“Have you ascertained the identities of these three individuals?”
Lt. Greg Soberanis
“Yes, the identities are known. One Mr. Murillo, Giovanni Murillo, another individual Mr. Teck and Mr. Sedacey. Like I said, these individuals are no strangers when it comes to conducting illegal activities out at sea. So for us it’s just a matter of working with the police as it relates to us supporting the case against these individuals.”
News Five understands that the case is being handled by lead investigator Hilberto Romero of the Crimes Investigations Branch; however it remains unclear what charges will be brought against the men. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
Coast Guard and pirates clash at sea
High speed chase and shootout lasted over 2 hours
There was a dangerous confrontation that occurred just after midday yesterday in the waters located 20 miles southeast of Belize City after five fishermen made a desperate call to the Belize Coast Guard alerting the authorities that they were in the process of being robbed by three men, two of them Hispanic and one of Creole descent.
The Coast Guard officers responded immediately and upon reaching the scene, they spotted the robbers – who were in a mid-sized skiff with a 50-horsepower engine registered as Dannica – and set chase, but the combative assailants reportedly refused to be apprehended without a gunfight, which ensued while they were being pursued by the marine officers.
Amandala understands that the would-be robbers fired several shots at the Coast Guard, who responded similarly with gunfire in a high speed chase and shootout that reportedly went on for two and a half hours until the bandits were finally cornered and detained near the reef.
Today, we spoke to the Coast Guard’s Fleet Commander, Lieutenant Greg Soberanis, who recounted the incident and told us how they managed to intercept the pirates.
He said, “Piracy at sea is becoming more and more frequent in Belize’s sea spaces, and yesterday was another such case. Just after midday we received a call from some fishermen that they were being robbed of their products by some local pirates, and that the individuals had fled to the area known as Middle Long Caye.
“We immediately deployed our Quick Reaction Team, who went on the scene and were informed by the fishermen that the men were hiding in a creek in Middle Long Caye. The patrol team conducted a quick search of the area and while doing the search, they sighted a vessel that fitted the description of the one being driven by the pirates.
“As the Coast Guard approached the vessel, however, the men fled close to the reef, just south of English Caye. A hot pursuit ensued and the pirates began to conduct evasive maneuvers to elude the Coast Guard. This went on for quite some time until the vessel became dead in the water, meaning it came to a complete stop.”
At that time, Soberanis stated, the Coast Guard personnel believed that the pirates had surrendered, but it turned out that they were actually being lured into a trap.
Soberanis explained, “We thought that the vessel had either experienced engine problems or had run out of gas, but this was not the case. Actually, they were luring us into a position to engage us, which they did, so shots were fired and the Coast Guard patrol took cover and subsequently returned fire at the said pirates.
“The vessel again fled and conducted evasive maneuvers once more. The occupants on the vessel then decided that they would make a run for Middle Long Caye, which was in an open area, and that gave the Coast Guard patrol an opportunity to intercept the vessel, because previously, all their evasive maneuvers were being conducted in the shallow parts of the reef.
“As they tried to escape into a creek near Middle Long Caye, we intercepted the individuals and the three occupants on board were detained, brought to headquarters and were handed over to the police to be processed.”
Thankfully, no one was injured during the treacherous game of “cat-and-mouse” through the shallow channel. However, Coast Guard officers hit the small outboard engine of the skiff twice after its occupants had opened fire on their Boston Whaler during the shootout, which eventually led to the arrests of the men.
Soberanis noted that the men who were detained – identified only as Giovanni Murillo, Teck and Sedacy – are no strangers to the Coast Guard or to the fishing community because they (the Coast Guard) have received numerous complaints that those same individuals had been looting products from fisher folk and harvesting illegal lobster, which they sell across the border.
Soberanis mentioned that when they sensed that they were going to be caught, the assailants dumped all their weapons and illegal products overboard.
He told us that they are aware of an increasing number of criminal elements which are involved in sea piracy, but they are coordinating their efforts with other maritime law enforcement agencies such as the Fisheries Department, the Port Authority and the police to curb those types of crimes, and to ensure that the sea spaces in Belize remain safe and secure for those who make a living from the sea.