One of the nine Venezuelans, who have been charged with drug and custom-related offenses after allegedly being caught on a boat in Dominica’s territorial waters, gave his testimony at the Roseau Magistrates’ Court on Friday.
The witness, who told the court he was a fisherman, said he left Venezuela on January 9, 2010 at 6 a.m. for Bird Island, to bring fuel for another boat. He said the nine-hour trip from Venezuela to Bird Island resulted in his arrest by Dominican police.
The defence witness said that his boat – a Venezuelan pirogue – had no lights on board, and on January 10 at about 8 p.m. they found themselves out at sea, without any clue of their location.
He has been making trips out at sea for the past seven to eight years, he told the court. He also added that the sea was in perfect condition at the time of his trip.
“The coast guard suddenly came in front of me and turned on the light … I thought it was the coast guard and I stopped quickly… They started shooting for about for about half an hour,” the Venezuelan man explained through an interpreter.
Defence lawyer Dawn Yearwood-Stewart asked her client whether he thought that the shooters were coast guards, and he replied, “No because they were shooting at us a lot, so we didn’t think it was the coast guard.”
“We were lying in the boat … when we observed that the shooting had ceased Pedro stood up and he was shot … when he was shot we stayed down, because we feared that we also would have been shot … I thought that it was bad people because they were shooting for a while and the police does not shoot like that,” the Venezuealan man explained.
The witness said he did not have any travel documents because he had no intention of coming to Dominica. He denied having any drugs on the boat, neither did he or any of his crew members throw drugs over board their vessel.
According to him, before the coast guard’s ship lights (clear yellow) came on and pointed at their vessel, they were all sitting in the boat headed to Venezuela.
The witness denied being chased by the police at sea. He said that he was not aware if one of the engines had gotten shot because it was dark and he could not see.
He alleged that the shooting incident took place at about 8 to 9 p.m. outside of Dominica waters. “We were outside of Dominica waters because it took us eight hours from Venezuela to there,” he added.
He reasoned on the witness stand, that if he was 11 miles off Dominica’s coast he would be able to get to the island in two hours. He further said during cross examination that he never heard the coast guard call for them to stop the ship.
The witness is expected to be crossed-examined by the prosecution on April 8, when the matter resumes. According to the defence, also being represented by Attorney-at-law Peter Allyene, if the evidence of the first witness is satisfactory the defence will close its case, and not waste judicial time by making each of the nine defendants testify.
At earlier hearings of the matter, prosecution witnesses – coast guard personnel – testified that they had encountered the Venezuelan vessel 11 miles off the coast of Roseau.
“When I turned on the light on my patrol boat and shouted [Stop Coast Guard!] the vessel immediately turned southwest and increased her speed. I lost visual contact then, but I could observe the fleeing vessel on radar and night vision equipment … I started pursuing the unidentified vessel at this point. I pursued her for about an hour-and-a-half on a 30-mile chase,” according to Corporal Francis, the captain of the coast guard vessel that night.
According to the prosecution witness no identification was found on any of the men, but a magnetic compass.
When questioned about throwing objects into the sea, they replied “[we didn’t throw anything]” Francis said.