The Pirates of the Lake - Maritime Robberies in Venezuela

As the economic and political crisis in Venezuela intensifies, predatory crimes are also on the rise. These crimes extend to the maritime domain where there has been an increase in attacks against fishermen in waters off Puerto la Cruz, the State of Sucre and Lake Maracaibo in recent years. The attack and killing of six fishermen on Lake Maracaibo in August 2017 is only one of the few attacks that were reported in the press.
It is estimated that around 4000 fishermen fish on Lake Maracaibo. Armed gangs such as "Los Hedionditos", “Los Santarroseros”, “Los Chompiras” and “El Nino Troconis” fill fishermen with fear as they attack fishing boats under darkness.

These gangs, comprising of former fishermen, approach in barges or motorboats. They are masked and are armed with firearms or knives. They approach without any lights.  They steal boats, engines, nets, cell phones and generators. Men posing as fishermen gather intelligence for the gangs.

The attackers set the boats with fishermen adrift and throw them in the water at times- leaving them to drown. Attacks are often violent. Cases were reported where fishermen were shot in the head.

Fishermen try to find security by fishing in large groups. Fishermen are careful not to use lights unnecessary at night, even hiding the coals of cigarettes as this can be seen over distances at sea.

Other maritime crimes, such as oil smuggling, are also on the rise. Criminals use small boats to steal equipment from oil refineries, wells, oil barges and rigs. The drilling barge LV-403 was boarded by eight robbers on 23 May 2014 near the municipality of La Ceiba on Lake Maracaibo. They shot an oil driller and injured another worker. This was the third attack on the LV-403 in 2014. They stole televisions, refrigerators, radios, equipment and personal belongings during the robberies. According to media sources attacks on barges continue, but are not often reported.

Although there have been arrests in the past year, the police and coast guard lack resources and boats. Corruption is also a problem. As example the police in Zulia have only two boats to monitor 20 coastal municipalities.

With the exception of oil barges, attacks on Lake Maracaibo rarely affect commercial shipping. The last reported incident was in April 2010 when robbers attempted to rob a General Cargo Ship, Industrial Dawn, at the Maracaibo Port Inner Anchorage.

Tankers and cargo vessels were targeted at Puerto La Cruz anchorages in recent years. Thirteen incidents against commercial vessels were recorded from January 2015 of which seven were recorded in 2017 alone. Almost all attacks took place at night. Ship stores were stolen in all cases. Robbers are usually armed with knives. Violence during these attacks is rare. The AB was assaulted by eight robbers during one of the attempted robberies in June 2016.

Two incidents in Trinidad and Tobago in late 2015 on a fishing boat and one on a yacht, Maritima13 were also attributed to pirates from Venezuela. A fisherman was killed and another wounded during the attack on the fishing boat.
No attacks on yachts in Venezuelan waters could be confirmed in the past three years, mainly because foreign yachts visiting Venezuela declined to a great extent due to security concerns. In previous years several armed robberies were reported, some of which were violent, resulting in injuries of crew. Risks to yachts are still very high.

It is likely that robberies on vessels in Venezuela will continue as long as the current socio-economic and political instability prevails.

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