Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab.

One Venezuelan has been detained and the hunt is on for others in an international human trafficking probe, following the recent capsizing of a Venezuelan boat off Guiria where 20 Venezuelans drowned.

Venezuelan authorities have apprehended the owner of the vessel which was recently shipwrecked near Guiria’s coast—and they’ve said Trinidad and Tobago is the epicentre of human trafficking from their country.

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab yesterday gave orders on investigations into the drownings, according to an article in the Ultimas Noticias publication.

Saab said he was sure the level of complicity and participation of (what he deemed) mafias involved in the trafficking that operate bi-nationally “…are committing crimes with total impunity in Trinidad as the epicentre of human trafficking to that Caribbean island from Venezuela.”

Saab’s statement was part of a flurry of activity in Venezuela and the Sucre state on the drownings.

At issue is the Venezuelan vessel “My Memories,” which left Guiria on December 6 with approximately 20 people—reportedly heading to T&T. The boat overturned off the Guiria coast and men, women and children aboard drowned.

T&T’s Coast Guard had not intercepted any vessels coming from Guiria.

Commenting on the Venezuelan authorities’ statements yesterday, National Security Minister Stuart Young said available information suggests the incident was one of human smuggling.

“It is very sad that once again the criminal elements involved in human smuggling and trafficking have, through their nefarious activities, caused the loss of lives. I pray for the families.”

Venezuela’s Government stated the Venezuelan coast guard patrol boat AS Serreta discovered the situation—with 11 people dead—in the seas off Sucre, seven miles off Guiria’s coast.

Venezuela stated that up to yesterday, 14 bodies were located, some on their coast—but no one had claimed family members were missing. Previous articles on the incident had claimed stated 20 people had drowned.

Authorities also found bodies of three deceased adults on a beach yesterday.

Venezuela, whose security forces are probing the incident, “didn’t rule out a link with criminal gangs” in that country.

Venezuelan AG Saab said the person identified as the owner of the ill-fated overturned vessel is Luis Ali Martinez. Saab said investigations are being done for crimes of trafficking and trafficking in persons. Inquiries are being made by a prosecutor based in Guiria and another with jurisdiction for the Protection of the Family and Women.

Interpol has also been asked by Venezuelan authorities to activate an international red alert against a Venezuelan citizen Alberto del Valle Abreu a Cedeno. Warrants have also been issued for six other people related to the vessel/drowning incident.

Saab said Venezuela’s Public Ministry was committed to punishing those responsible for these serious crimes “who have organised as mafias that operate between (the state of) Sucre and the island of Trinidad and Tobago to promote for sub-human purposes, human trafficking and smuggling.”

The Venezuelan government’s statement said co-ordinated links between themselves and T&T’s military authorities are supported by T&T’s Coast Guard, Sea Search mission and air support. Recently, T&T was also described as the epicentre of activities in a probe which Caricom ordered a Canadian firm to do on child trafficking and an illegal adoption ring in the Caribbean.

Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza also said yesterday an investigation into the drownings is going on. He called for deepening of the fight against “human trafficking mafias that promote illegality.” His government’s statement yesterday also condemned “manipulation” of information in the public, stressing it had acted responsibly.

T&T Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Browne also offered condolences to his Venezuelan counterpart on the tragic matter.

“All of us in T&T have been saddened by the reports of a maritime tragedy in Venezuelan waters that resulted in the drowning of multiple individuals,” Browne said.

“I’ve personally communicated with the Ambassador of Venezuela and conveyed sincere condolences of our people to the peoples of Venezuela”

T&T has been mentioned in international reports on the incident, including BBC.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan-born T&T-based leader of one network which assists migrants said some Venezuelans in T&T had relatives coming on the ill-fated vessel. She said a Venezuela group asked her to check if any of the people from the boat were lodged at the Chaguaramas Heliport, where illegal migrants are taken. She admitted she’s warned Venezuelans not to make the dangerous crossing to T&T.

“But they don’t listen,” she said.