ALL 131 Hondurans who had been detained for illegally fishing on the Pedro Banks earlier this month on Friday pleaded guilty and will have to pay the fines imposed by the courts or serve time before being allowed to leave.
The men were detained on December 11 after a chase involving members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard who, in patrolling Jamaica’s Exclusive Economic Zone, intercepted the Honduran fishing vessel with them aboard.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Ruth-Anne Robinson, who represented the Crown when the matter was heard on Friday, said five minors (17-year-olds) who were among the 131 were admonished and discharged and all the others fined $40,000 or two months in prison.
However, the driver (helmsman) of the boat, who was charged for damage to the JDF vessel, was fined $150,000 or three months’ imprisonment, and $100,000 for fishing without a licence. The ship’s captain was fined the heaviest of the lot and was also charged for failing to obey the command of a marine officer as under the Exclusive Economic Zone Act.
All the men will remain in custody until the fines have been paid. No time period was stipulated by the court for that payment.
According to statements provided to the court, the coast guard officers were on duty when they observed black smoke coming from a ship in the Exclusive Economic Zone, the smoke signalling that the vessel was moving away from the island.
The coast guard, in calling out to the vessel to stop, was answered by the captain who said, “We are poor people. Let us go home.”
The JDF Coast Guard, however, sent out an interceptor (a smaller vessel to catch up to that vessel more quickly) but experienced difficulties based on tactics employed by the Hondurans â€” one of which eventually resulted in 85,000 euros worth of damage to the JDF vessel.
Following a chase, in which they fired warning shots and ordered the vessel to stop, JDF officers managed to board the ship which was eventually docked at Port Royal.
Among the items found on-board were five two-pound fish, a compressor used in fishing, a see-saw (bait used to catch worms for fishing), diving equipment and goggles.
“Once the fines are paid they will leave on their vessel. They were not charged for illegal entry so they are not being deported. It’s a loss to the economy, but remember, they are humans so it’s a balancing act and the resources for the [security forces which are being utilised] to hold 131 men. They shouldn’t be here much longer, I anticipate. It is our hope they will return home as soon as possible,” Robinson told the Jamaica Observer.
Attorney for the men, Tom Tavares-Finson, King’s Counsel, in confirming that the men are still in custody, told the Observer that once arrangements are made for the payment of the fines, the men will leave.