Coast Guard probes claims of assault by Grenadian crew

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Keith Joseph wants a thorough investigation into the incident.

THE COAST GUARD has launched an investigation into allegations of an assault on Grenadian sailors who were intercepted and allegedly beaten in TT waters on March 2.

A release issued on Saturday said the Coast Guard is aware of an incident involving sailors from one of its interceptors and the crew of a Grenadian vessel on March 2. It said the allegations made by the crew were “not in keeping with the service-oriented ethos that the Coast Guard expects from its members.”

Keith Joseph, one of the operators on the Grenadian boat – the Rayniah J – said in a Facebook post that they encounter Coast Guard officers on a regular basis on their trips between Grenada and TT, but this was the first time they were met with hostility.

He said the vessel is 85 feet long and was laden with scrap metal travelling at about seven knots when they were intercepted on entering the Bocas near the Coast Guard base at Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas.

There was no radio contact, but the Coast Guard alerted them using flashing spotlights, he said. One of the Rayniah J’s engines were slowed as the second had to be slowed in the engine room, as the coast guard circled their vessel.

Aveka Augustine claims he was beaten by member of the Coast Guard on March 2 after their vessel was intercepted.

“They started hurling obscenities at the crew members who were all ordered to gather on deck. The Coast Guard accused us of not stopping.”

Joseph said a line was attached to their vessel and an officer boarded and began acting in a hostile manner toward the Rayniah J crew.

“(He was) cracking and pointing his weapon at crew members and using unprofessional and disrespectful language. We were ordered to follow them to their base. Upon berthing the dock, an officer boarded the boat and ordered the captain off.

Joseph claimed an officer began beating the captain – kicking and slapping him about the body.

Another crew member was also beaten and the entire crew was made to kneel on the dock at gunpoint while officers searched the vessel.

A report from Grenadian Broadcasting Network said the injuries were so bad that one crew member, Aveka Augustine, was taken to the Port of Spain General Hospital for treatment and will need surgery to repair broken facial bones.

“I spat blood and I began to pee blood. I have broken bones in two places on my face. I am experiencing a lot of pain in my head and I cannot really see well in the sunlight because I am getting blurry vision,” Augustine said in the news report.

Joseph said in his Facebook post that they encounter Coast Guard officers on every visit to TT but this is by far the worst and most unprofessional encounter.

“We were reminded by the captain of the coast guard who intercepted us that they are not the police but the military and can use whatever measure and force they deem necessary.”

In the Grenadian news report, Joseph said the injured man should be compensated for his injuries and said they are seeking legal advice on the matter.

“It is not a simple or cheap surgery, so either the Coast Guard or the TT government has to take responsibility for this,” Joseph said.

“I am not afraid to stand up for this. It is the man’s rights, our rights, human rights. If that happens to us and we trade with TT every week, what will happen to other vessels where people cannot speak English?”

In a statement, the Coast Guard said it took “all allegations of this nature seriously because they affect public perception of the formation which may lead to a breakdown in trust…As a result, the Coast Guard launched an immediate investigation on the same morning of the incident with the view to determine what were the facts of what occurred.”

The release said the investigation will contact all parties concerned by the end of the investigation.

“The TT Coast Guard holds itself and its membership to the highest standards of conduct and in no way supports any abuse of power or authority,” the release said.

An unrelated investigation into the shooting death of a one-year-old baby is still underway by the Coast Guard and the police after sailors intercepted a vessel with 34 migrants off the southwestern coast on February 5.

The Coast Guard claimed that the vessel attempted to ram its interceptor and they shot at the engines to disable the boat. The child’s mother Darielvis Sarabia was also shot through the shoulder during the incident.