Nicaraguan fishermen report harassment at sea

Saturday’s meeting between Presidents Ortega and Santos served to calm tensions a bit on the high seas, but Nicaraguan fishermen say they don’t know what to expect this week

Nicaraguan fishing boat captains on the Caribbean Sea say they are “fishing with fear” among Colombian warships that continue to ply Nicaragua’s recently recovered waters beyond the 82nd meridian. But they insist they are doing their patriotic duty to exert Nicaraguan sovereignty in the area.

“We are doing our part to support the government,” says Carlos Javier Goff, president of the Copescharley fishing company out of Puerto Cabezas.  “We feel protected by the government and by the international community and, God willing, this won’t go to extremes…it won’t get beyond words and intimidation.”

Goff, whose fishing company has seven boats currently fishing near the 81st meridian, in waters still protected by Colombia despite the Nov. 19 world court ruling that establishes the waters as Nicaraguan territory, says his crews were harassed all last week by Colombian forces. He says his boat captains report the presence of two Colombian warships, which routinely deployed go-fasts to circle the Nicaraguan fishing boats. One of Colombian patrols allegedly attempted to board one of his Nicaraguan fishing vessels early last week, but the captain wouldn’t let the Colombian mariners aboard.

The harassment was also coming from the air, Goff says. “They were doing daily flyovers of our boats last week in helicopters and planes,” he told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview this morning.

A fishing boat heads out to sea from Puerto Cabezas (photo/ Tim Rogers)

Another Nicaraguan fishing company reported that one of its boats, the “Alex 2,” was also followed by a Colombian helicopter last week. The Nicaragua Dispatch tried to get more information from the boat’s owner, who lives in Bilwi, but he said he is uncomfortable talking about the situation over the phone and didn’t want to comment.

Nicaraguan authorities also refused to comment.  Karen Joseph Sequeira, the delegate for the Nicaragua Fisheries Institute (INPESCA) in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS),  said she is not authorized to speak on the subject. Manuel Vilchez, INPESCA’s delegate in the RAAN, was also suspicious of talking to reporters on the phone and said he had nothing to say, beyond clarifying that his title was “Compañero Vilchez.”

Tensions calming?

Those who did speak said the situation appears to be calming since Presidents Daniel Ortega and Juan Manuel Santos met in Mexico on Saturday. Boat owner Silvio Chamorro says his captains fishing on the 81st meridian report that the Colombian Navy now appears to be letting up a bit.

Still, the warships remain in Nicaraguan waters and the fisherman say they don’t know what to expect this week.

“The Colombian Navy is still there by force, and it’s an unwelcome presence—like when someone enters your house uninvited,” Goff says.

Cannon Fodder?

Goff says in some ways the ruling from The Hague didn’t change much in the disputed Caribbean waters.

The New Maritime Boundaries, acccording to ICJ ruling

“We have always fished in these same waters. I’ve had boats captured by the Colombian Navy twice, in 2003 and in 2011,” Goff says. “But we fished the waters anyway because it was always clear to us that they belonged to Nicaragua, and now the government and the international community supports that claim.”  

With the International Court of Justice ruling in Nicaragua’s favor, it’s up to Nicaraguan fisherman to help exert their country’s sovereignty in the recovered maritime territory, because the Nicaraguan Navy is no match for Colombia’s, Goff says.

“We have a coastguard, but they have warships,” the boat owner says.

Still, he adds, the fisherman don’t feel like they are being used by the government as cannon fodder, because it’s their right to fish the waters and they feel backed by the law and the international community.

Conflict is not between fishermen

Like most border squabbles, the conflict over the maritime territory is a political squabble that’s felt most passionately in the capital cities far removed from the frontier.

In the Caribbean Sea, Goff says, the fishermen from Nicaragua have no problem with the fishermen from Colombia, San Andres or Honduras.

  • http://www.thelobsterfilm.com Concerned U.S. Seafood Restaurant Owner

    Lobster fishing in Nicaragua is one of the most abusive industries in the world for its workers. The boat owners quoted in this article have siphoned off millions of dollars in profits from the industry and done nothing to ensure the safety of their workers – most of whom are Miskito Indians with few alternative sources of income. Abusive working conditions for their lobster divers have left hundreds dead and thousands upon thousands paralyzed, without little to no assistance, all along the Miskito Coast. As one diver quoted, ‘Once you’re injured, they throw you out like trash.”

    These boat owners deserve no sympathy, and their diving operations should be shut down immediately. Educate yourself about the industry, then make your own decision.

    To find out more about the abusive industry, you can watch some very good reporting here:

    (1) http://current.com/shows/vanguard/76374162_diving-too-deep-part-1.htm

    (2) Rock Center with Brian Williams: http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/02/9900022-doctors-quest-to-save-injured-lobster-divers?lite

    (3) My Village, My Lobster: http://www.thelobsterfilm.com

    (4) Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/video/americas/2012/10/20121030183523793264.html

  • SmallLobsters

    Patriotism … They just fish and without any environmental plan for the new territory (or is it aquatory?) start the big enterprise of destroying and overfishing like they did in the former limited Nicaraguan area.

  • how concerned are you

    You can not shut them down, impossible. The bosses are tyrants that are taking advantage of an uneducated population that needs the work. Since easy pickings of lobster have been depleted, divers have to go out farther every year. What is solution? I think companies that benefit from cheap lobster using cheap labor should shoulder the costs of getting everyone involved a safe living. You can throw money at situation, but money will disappear. Have Darden and You start a US run system that includes. Educating the dangers to the workers, provide working equipment for deep dives with maintenance included. Start a clinic with reputable paid doctors the have a working isolation tank used for the Bends. What will this all cost? I don’t know, but I think it will probably increase cost by a nominal amount, you would probably know the numbers better. If you or I would go the coast with any kind of finger pointing, we would end up in pine box. So the association must be controlled and monitored from here (US). If you just send money to fix, NOTHING will get fixed. How concerned are You? shut this down and economy will faulter, and operations would move somewhere else with exactly same practices. These type of bosses are everywhere, they are slim, but very dangerous and connected. So how concerned are You?