Jamaica working on repatriation of fishermen in Colombia – Johnson Smith

Jamaica working on repatriation of fishermen in Colombia – Johnson Smith

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith says active steps are under way to secure the repatriation of 34 Jamaican fishermen in Colombia who were believed to be fishing in that country illegally.

Johnson Smith, who was speaking in the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate today, said effort is also being extended to eight non-nationals who are claiming relationships to persons in Jamaica.

She did not disclose how long the fishermen have been stuck in Colombia.

But a video has been in circulation on social media platforms in which the Jamaican fishermen claim that they have been in Colombia for weeks under harsh conditions.

They accused the government of doing little to help secure their return home.

Holding back from going into details, the foreign affairs minister stated that securing the repatriation of Jamaican fishermen who find themselves in distress overseas can be a tedious process.

Johnson Smith said that her ministry has engaged with the owner of the vessels and it is working with Jamaica’s embassy in Colombia as well as its partners in the Spanish-speaking country to process the crew for repatriation.

She said Jamaica is hopeful of a positive result.

The foreign affairs minister went on to lament that countries have changed their laws regarding fishing and Jamaican boat owners and operators need to change with the times.

“Illegal fishing is a major international issue, vessels are seized, [and] that’s part of a judicial process. The crew is liable to be imprisoned, again a judicial process; they’re not political processes in which governments can engage. When a decision is taken to commence a process, it becomes very difficult,” Johnson Smith said.

“I want to call on our boat owners and operators and the captions of these vessels to fish responsibly in our waters,” she added.

The foreign minister argued that a system needs to be put in place to offer protection to fishermen when they find themselves in situations of distress.

“I want to 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 crews. It is not responsible to send people’s children out on the high seas without consideration of the risk and the protection needed and simply, when they fall on distress, to say the government must. You have a responsibility as well and I want to call on them to be more thoughtful in this regard.

“From the government’s perceptive, we will be working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to establish a policy on treating these matters because although we hope they will not multiply we do believe that we’re in circumstances where we can no longer treat them in an ad hoc manner. We need a full policy.”

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