PARAMARIBO (Reuters) - Pirates burned Guyanese fishermen with hot oil, attacked them with machetes and forced them overboard tied to anchors in a fatal attack in the Atlantic Ocean off the neighboring South American nation of Suriname, according to survivors.
The assault in late April on four fishing boats 30 miles (48 km) from the coast was described by Guyana’s President David Granger as a “massacre” and a major setback to curbing piracy long rife in the waters off both nations.
Of the twenty fishermen attacked, 12 are still missing, five survived and three bodies have been found.
Eighteen Guyanese men have been arrested for what is thought to be a revenge attack.
Survivor Deonarine Goberdhan, 47, has fished for three decades and is used to interacting with other vessels, so at first was not surprised when another boat approached.
Yet, the people onboard had obscured their faces with rags, leaving only their eyes uncovered, he told Reuters from his home in the Surinamese capital Paramaribo.
Seven boarded Guyana-born Goberdhan’s small boat with a gun and long knives, and began beating them.
“They said they would take the boat and that everyone should jump overboard,” he said, showing gashes and bruises on his arm.
“I tried to keep my head above water so I could get air. I drank a lot of salt water,” he said. The pirates had stolen his boat. “I looked to the stars and moon. I just hoped and prayed.”
At one point closer to shore, Goberdhan gave up and sank, but fought back to the surface and eventually found passing fishermen who brought him to shore.
Another survivor, 33-year-old Sherwin Lovell, told a similar though more gruesome story from his own boat.
The pirates poured the fishermen’s cooking oil into a pot on their victims’ boat and turned the stove on.
“The men came with the pot and started burning us with the oil,” Lovell said from his apartment in Paramaribo, nursing wounds on his back, arms and left foot.
The pirates also cut them and sprayed them with gasoline, as they cowered helplessly in crates used to store fish.
“I jumped overboard because they said they would kill everybody,” said Lovell. “I spent two nights on the water drifting. Luckily, the tide carried me to shore.”
When finally in hospital, capping his trauma, Lovell found out his partner had herself fallen ill in an unrelated incident - and suddenly died the next day. “I want to know why all this is happening to me.”
Guyana’s Police Commissioner David Ramnarine said the attack appeared to stem from a previous killing on the mainland.
“The basis for this gruesome, heinous and dastardly attack has to do with some sort of retaliation by one of the persons in custody whose brother was allegedly gunned down in a drive-by shooting on March 30 in Suriname,” Ramnarine said Wednesday in Georgetown.
Suriname’s government temporarily suspended fishing off its coast after the attack. Undeterred, Goberdhan said he would be back on the water soon. “I love it out there.”
Additional reporting by Ank Kuipers in Paramaribo; Writing by Girish Gupta and Leon Wietfeld; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alistair Bell