Gov’t seeks release of 34 J’cans caught fishing offshore Colombia
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith is warning Jamaicans who engage in commercial fishing outside of the country’s maritime borders to desist from the illegal practice as it could land them in trouble with the law in another jurisdiction.
The warning comes as the Government is working to repatriate 34 Jamaicans from San Andres, Colombia, after they were reportedly caught fishing illegally in Colombian waters and are now seeking assistance to return home.
Johnson Smith said that there are eight other non-Jamaicans on board the vessels who claim that they are related to the Jamaicans.
She did not disclose how long the fishermen have been stuck in Colombia, but a video has been in circulation in which men claiming to be Jamaican fishermen say they have been stuck in Colombia for weeks under harsh conditions.
They accused the Government of doing little to help secure their return home.
“Without saying much at this point in time, I will just say that we have engaged with the owner of the vessels and we are working with our embassy and Colombian partners to process the crew for repatriation to Jamaica,” Johnson Smith said in her contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday.
The minister said that she is hopeful for a positive result.
The foreign affairs and foreign trade minister cautioned boat owners and operators that they should keep abreast of changes in laws in other jurisdictions.
“Illegal fishing is a major international issue. Vessels are seized; that’s part of a judicial process. The crew is liable to be imprisoned; again, a judicial process,” said Johnson Smith, who is also the leader of government business in the Senate.
“So I call on boat owners and captains to fish responsibly in our waters. I also impress on boat owners the importance of insurance not only for damage, but for loss and seizure and, more importantly, for the care and protection of their crew,” she stressed.
She said it was not responsible for boat operators to take “people’s children out on the high seas without consideration of the risk and protection needed”.
Johnson Smith announced that her ministry will be working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to establish a policy to treat with these matters.
“Although we hope they will not continue to multiply, we do believe that we are in circumstances where we can no longer treat them in an ad hoc manner. We need a full policy to treat with such matters going forward,” she added.
The foreign affairs minister reported that on a number of occasions, her ministry has facilitated the repatriation of scores of fishermen who encounter difficulties at sea or have found themselves in distress in other countries in the region.