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Secure at Sea: Piracy skyrockets in Caribbean as Venezuela turmoil escalates

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Secure@Sea: by Corey Ranslem

The country of Venezuela has been in a deteriorating security and economic situation for a number of years. Most mariners who understand the politics and geography know where they can and can’t go without major security problems. Piracy in the Caribbean in general from 2017 to 2018 increased  by over 105 percent, with most of that increase attributed to problems and issues in and around the waters surrounding Venezuela.

According to the Piracy Reporting Centre’s Piracy Map, there were 11 reported attacks just off the coast of Venezuela in 2018. All of those attacks were against cargo vessels. That doesn’t mean there weren’t problems or attacks against large yachts or other types of vessels, it just means those incidents were officially reported. Unofficial reporting showed most incidents against smaller vessels throughout the Caribbean were attempted thefts of dinghies, outboards or other valuable and easy to get equipment.

Over the past couple of months, the security situation has become volatile along both the land and maritime borders. In February, the government closed their maritime borders with the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). Vessels are not allowed to travel between the islands and any port within Venezuela. There are also a number of restrictions in place for vessels of all types entering the ports of Venezuela.

There is a much larger military presence within the ports and along the land borders. Military and law enforcement personnel are conducting extensive inspections on vessels entering ports. The closed maritime borders and increased scrutiny of vessels coming in and out of ports is to prevent food aid from illegally coming into the country.

I’ve been asked by several of our clients and large yachts about the safety of the ABC islands and the southern Caribbean. Currently these areas are still safe for large yachts, cruising and sailing vessels, however the security situations changes almost daily.

Vessels can and are cruising the ABC islands with no problems. These islands are far outside the reach of any security problems or issues at this point from coastal Venezuela. The southern Caribbean islands haven’t reported any major issues at this point either.

The Venezuelan military has a very small presence on the water and isn’t conducting routine patrols, which opens the waterside borders for a number of potential security problems and issues. Currently law enforcement agencies and the military are tasked with looking for vessels attempting to bring illegal aid into the country.

If the situation continues to degrade, we will start to see a variety of issues, including an increase in piracy, hijacking, human trafficking and migrant departures or other related security issues off the coast.

Large yachts that are transiting these areas should be on the lookout for small vessels with migrants. Piracy has not moved very far offshore at this point,  but could change with a deteriorating political climate. It is not recommended that any vessel call on any port within the country of Venezuela until the political and security situations stabilize. There is no security and there are little, or no services available, and most ports and marinas aren’t fully operational.

A look at the online Marine Traffic site shows there are more than 20 tankers sitting off the coast of Puerto La Cruz, waiting to enter. If planning to transit in and around these areas, be sure to transit farther offshore than normal and be on the lookout for smaller vessels, especially between the ABC islands and the coast, and the lower Caribbean islands and the coast.

The U.S. Coast Guard does have vessels working in and around the Caribbean and coastal South America. The best way to contact the Coast Guard is via phone to the District Seven Command Center.

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (www.imsa.global), has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.

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