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Trinidad Coast Guard Shoots and Kills Infant Child During Intercept

calistemon tts
The newly-delivered TTS Scarborough, Feb. 2021 (Calistemon / CC BY SA 4.0)

Published Feb 9, 2022 8:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard is under scrutiny after an encounter with human traffickers ended in the tragic death of an infant child, identified as nine-month-old Venezuelan national Yaelvis Santoyo Sarabia.

According to the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, a suspected smuggling boat attempted to ram a patrol boat during an interdiction on Saturday. The vessel TTS Scarborough spotted and pursued a boat that had crossed over the maritime boundary with Venezuela, but the suspect vessel did not stop. TTS Scarborough fired warning shots and launched its small boat to intercept it. The suspect boat swerved, made contact with the Scarborough's launch, then made "attempts to ram it." The personnel aboard the launch opened fire on the larger suspect vessel's engines in an attempt to prevent the ramming, according to a statement from the coast guard, in an act of "self defense." 

In the course of this altercation, personnel aboard the patrol boat accidentally shot the child, who was inside the suspect boat and was not visible to the boat crew. The infant died in his mother's arms. The mother, identified as Darielvis Sarabia, was shot in the leg and was evacuated to a hospital for treatment. The other survivors were taken into custody and processed according to immigration protocols. 

The shooting has drawn criticism from the government of Venezuela and from opposition politicians in Trinidad and Tobago. T&T Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley defended the coast guard in a statement, saying that the event was an unfortunate accident.

"Our border patrol attempts to stop a craft that refused to comply and acted aggressively towards lawful, reasonable and professional orders under international protocols and law," said Dr. Rowley. "The craft could easily have been carrying any cargo of guns, ammunition, killers or anything on the move."

Human trafficking and smuggling vessels are common in the waters between Trinidad and Venezuela, which are just a dozen miles apart at the closest point. According to the T&T Coast Guard, the interactions with these illegal operators are often difficult. 

"Twice before in the recent past coast guard interceptors have been rammed by suspect vessels, resulting in total loss of the interceptor in one incident and major damage to the hull and interior in the other," the service said in a statement. "In both incidents, the lives of the interceptor crews were put at risk since they narrowly escaped."

Top image: The newly-delivered TTS Scarborough, Feb. 2021 (Calistemon / CC BY SA 4.0)