THE CREW of an oil and chemical tanker anchored off the coast of Chaguaramas more than a month ago is willing to help a multi-agency task force embark on the dangerous mission to empty the vessel’s fuel tanks to search for a shipment of dangerous drugs.
Almost the entire crew has been infected by covid19 after law enforcement officers boarded the vessel based on a tip-off from United States authorities but has so far come up empty-handed.
With no medical assistance the continued detention of the crew, which comprises nationals of Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, and other South American countries, has sparked a diplomatic row influenced by the United States.
The US Embassy has offered to provide assistance through the drug enforcement administration (DEA) to assist TT if the need arises but lawyers representing the crew and the owners of the Star Balboa have cried foul and intend to demand US$11,700 daily rental rate from the September 2.
Local coast guard authorities last week ordered the crew to refrain from leaving TT territorial waters and ordered the crew to remain unmoved.
Several searches by a join team led by the transnational organised crime unit, coast guard, immigration, customs and other agencies have found nothing illegal during a two week search even after the contaminated ballast water was emptied some four miles off Chaguaramas in contravention of international maritime laws.
A team of lawyers led by Sophia Chote SC, Nyree Alfonso, Peter Carter and Asif Hosein-Shah are representing the owner of the vessel and the crew.
In a letter to captain Don Polo, dated October 8, Alfonso noted that the latest request to empty the fuel tanks was unlawful as the protective authorities did not have valid search warrant.
Last week the DEA said it stands ready to assist local law enforcement authorities to search the Panamanian-registered oil tanker.
The plight of the crew has made headline news in Panama and authorities there have been pleading to allow the vessel and crew which has been been at sea for over two months to leave TT waters.