Help us go home
By Sasha Harrinanan Monday, October 22 2012
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Lost at sea: Indonesian fishermen crowd among clotheslines on a dilapidated fishing vessel anchored in Alcan Bay, Chaguaramas for two weeks, after the...
“I miss my home, my family and hope to fly home in one month but this process is very difficult,” laments Indonesian fisherman, Hendrik Hermanto.
He is among 170 Asian fishermen, 163 from Indonesia and seven Vietnamese, all living in cramped quarters on five dilapidated fishing vessels, that have been anchored in the vicinity of Alcan Bay, Chaguaramas for the past two weeks.
The men, most of whom are in their twenties, actually became stranded about three months ago when the Taiwanese company they worked for became bankrupt while they were fishing for tuna, marlin, shark and kingfish in international waters between Venezuela, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago (TT).
Unlike their Indonesian and Vietnamese counterparts, a group of Chinese fishermen who were also stranded have since been repatriated by their embassy in Port-of-Spain (PoS).
Meanwhile, the remaining 170 men rely mainly on the speaking skills of Hermanto and a few others to help tell their story to TT Government officials, vendors and the media.
Standing amidst clothes strung out on fishing wire on a boat, the second closest to shore, with the smell of spoilt meat wafting from a boiling pot of water behind him, and with dozens of his comrades hovering close by, Hermanto spoke of the struggle to get their salaries and return flights home.
“The company, Kwo Jeng, closed about three months ago. Since then our salaries have not been paid to us, we have no money. We sold what we could to survive, then two weeks ago we called the Indonesian Embassy in Caracas, (Venezuela) for help. They sent Mr Vincent with supplies. He brought eggs, water, onions, saltfish, chilli powder, garlic, chicken,” Hermanto said.
Questioned about efforts to get them home, he told Newsday they might very well be anchored off the coast of Chaguaramas until sometime in December.
“Mr Vincent said it would be one or two months before we can go home, maybe even until the new year, before we go to Jakarta; our capital city. I’m hoping we go home sooner but this process is very difficult. Our passports with your Immigration officials. We visited them last week. I hope this means we fly home soon.”
Newsday understands that last weekend the fishermen were brought ashore by local immigration officials and placed in hotels but a lack of funding for accommodation and meals meant they were soon returned to the five vessels.
Asked if Mr Vincent (his first name was not known) had been back at all over the past two weeks, Hermanto shook his head “no” before revealing the group has been surviving on the generosity of fellow Indonesians working in Trinidad.
“Indonesian people living in Coral Cove fishing area bring us some money and food when they can. We thank them for this. It means we can pay small boat to take us to shore, then we go to Port-of-Spain to get basics like toothpaste, food, cigarettes.”
Hermanto’s tale of making ends meet by buying and selling what little they can on the streets of downtown PoS is something many people have noticed over the past two months at least, while going about their business in the capital city.
One woman told Newsday she had seen them on Chacon and Charlotte Streets the most, looking a bit lost but figured they were Chinese labourers, brought in by some company for a construction project.
While en route to Chaguaramas to visit the stranded fishermen on Saturday afternoon, Newsday saw five of them sitting on a ledge at the corner of Chacon Street and Independence Square South. They had two black plastic bags, one large and one small, which contained their purchases from the trip into “Town”. They were soon joined by another five young men, all looking to find transportation back to Chaguaramas. One man who spoke basic English, identified himself as Dalim Tohririn said he was 28-years-old while another man, Mohammed Bahrun, told Newsday he was 27. The eight other men were between the ages of 20 and 22, all having left home to seek a better living fishing in the open waters of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. That is until the company they worked for apparently experienced financial difficulties, reportedly owing money not just to its fishing crew but to TT nationals it once did business with.
A local fisherman, who declined to identify himself, told Newsday the close-knit fishing community had heard stories of financial troubles in the family-owned Taiwanese company, following the father’s death about eight months ago.
“One of the agents who used to buy fish from the company told me when the man died, his wife, two sons and a daughter were left to run the business but somehow the brother in charge of the boats went bankrupt. I hear he owing plenty locals money, not just these fellas on the boats, but nobody could find him,” the fisherman said.
He then expressed hope the stranded fishermen would soon be able to return home, telling Newsday they had been suffering for too long before the media learnt of their plight two weeks ago.
“About three months before the Coast Guard tied those five boats together off Alcan Bay, those fellas used to be further out to sea, making a journey now and again to shore to sell the fish they had in storage, and anything else of value, just to survive. It’s time somebody help them get home,” the fisherman declared.