By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
CLOSE to 50 Dominican poachers have admitted to illegally taking thousands of pounds of undersized grouper and crawfish from Bahamian waters over the weekend.
The 49 men, some as young as 19, all said they are “culpable”, which is Spanish for guilty, when they were arraigned before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt on Friday.
Those men were just a fraction of the 124 Dominican poachers arrested by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) on Saturday after engaging the law enforcement in a shootout near Cay Lobos.
Three Dominican “motherships” – the B/P Paul, Digna Rosa and the Chiki – were also seized at the time, and when two of those three were searched by government officials, they were said to be loaded with a “tremendous amount of undersized products”.
The 49 men, said to be the Crew of the B/P Paul , admitted to being caught with 144lbs of Nassau Grouper weighing less than three pounds each, as well as 7,722 pounds of crawfish that measured less than three and one quarter inches from the base of the horn to the end of the jacket.
They further admitted to being found with 14 air compressor tanks and eight spear guns, which they intended to use in the furtherance of their poaching activities within the exclusive fishing zone of the Bahamas.
According to initial reports, on October 10th, the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Vigilant with a RBDF ship-rider on board reported the sighting of a fishing vessel from the Dominican Republic north of the Republic of Haiti. The Dominicans on board the vessel indicated they were en route to the Bahamas.
The RBDF was subsequently notified and HMBS Madeira was director to intercept the Dominican vessel in the event it entered Bahamian waters.
HMBS Madeira later sighted the three vessels at daybreak on October 13th, with skiffs in the water near Cay Lobos, a small cay on the southern edge of the Great Bahama Bank some 12 nautical miles north of central Cuba.
HMBS Madeira deployed its seaboat with a boarding team to apprehend the motherships before they entered Cuban waters. However, the Dominican vessels opened fire on the approaching boarding team while fleeing into Cuban waters. HMBS Madeira’s boarding party returned fire in self-defence.
None of the RBDF’s marines were injured during the incident. However, one of the three steel-hulled vessels ran aground in Cuban waters while trying to escape.
The RBDF immediately notified the Cuban border patrol of the incident and informed the Bahamas’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which then sought the assistance of the Cuban government in apprehending the vessels. As a result, the Cuban Border Patrol apprehended the three vessels with 124 members that day, and turned them over to HMBS Madeira and HMBS Durward Knowles the following day.
The poachers were brought to shore on Monday and remanded to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
Chief Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt, conversing in Spanish, accepted the guilty pleas of the 49 men, and indicated that she would sentence them at a later date. However, an issue arose when, pursuant to the court’s inquiries, several or more of the 49 men indicated that they were not the crew of the B/P Paul, but crew members of the other vessels.
Additionally, some nine of the poachers indicated that they needed medical attention; in one instance, one of them is deaf and diabetic, and was said to be very low on insulin at the time of the arraignment. There were also reports of hypertension amongst the 124 men, and another one had a very swollen right foot with what appeared to be multiple lacerations.
Chief Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt ordered that the men be given medical attention right away, particularly the diabetic and the hypertensive individuals.
She also indicated that the arraignments would continue on Saturday at 10am, when it is expected that the remaining men will be formally charged.
Attorneys Keevon Maynard and Terrel Butler represent the Dominicans.