The coast of Sucre state, in northeastern Venezuela, has become the most dangerous place in the country for piracy, according to the latest report by the Organization for Rescue and Maritime Safety of the Aquatic Areas of Venezuela (ONSA, in Spanish), which in October established new risk zones based on incidents in recent years.
According to ONSA, an organization founded in 1998 to provide support in matters of security, navigation, and search and rescue, the waters from the city of Carúpano (Sucre) to the Delta Amacuro, on the border with Guyana, are the most dangerous.
“That area is taken over by irregular [groups], who exercise control,” Vice Commodore Luis Guillermo Inciarte, ONSA’s secretary general, told Diálogo. “There is a network of irregular groups on those coasts, who even compete for narcotrafficking routes.”
In a 2019 report, the international organization InSight Crime, which studies transnational crime in Latin America, indicated that Sucre had become a base for narcotrafficking over the last 10 years and that, according to experts consulted, pirates were reportedly working for drug gangs based in the northwestern state of Barinas.
As reported in October 2021 by the Venezuelan news site Efecto Cocuyo, ONSA claimed to have information about pirates attacking vessels while armed with warfare equipment, such as AR-15 and AK-47 rifles.
The case of the Klinker sailboat and its crew member Fabio Tavares, who was attacked in September 2021 while sailing off the coast of the Paria Peninsula (Sucre), brought regional attention to this area. The Venezuelan newspaper El Siglo reported that Tavares, who was traveling from Panama to the port of Natal, Brazil, was kidnapped by 40 armed men who came in four vessels and tortured him, holding him hostage for ransom. Two days later, after his release, Tavares sailed to Trinidad and Tobago, where he notified the authorities, El Siglo added.
“They stole everything from him, money and equipment. They cleaned out his vessel,” Inciarte said. In addition to the Tavares case, other similar incidents have occurred.
According to Carmen Julia Amundaraín, Sucre state coordinator of the civil organization Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV, in Spanish), in June, pirates attacked the crew of a fishing vessel that was sailing east after setting sail from Carúpano. In late 2020, the OVV reported on its website dozens of cases where fishermen “were shot, beaten, and robbed by pirates while on the high seas.”
In a 2018 article about the growing threats that pirates pose in the Caribbean, The Washington Post reported that “often, observers say, the acts of villainy appear to be happening with the complicity or direct involvement of corrupt officials — particularly in the waters off collapsing Venezuela.”
According to OVV data, more than 150 attacks were reported on vessels in Sucre in 2020, or 30 more than in 2019. Inciarte said that, since then, reports of pirate attacks have declined due to the control that the criminals have over local communities. “The little information available is provided by affected foreigners, who manage to leave the area of control and feel that they can file a report,” he said.