Coast Guard officers go on red alert after fatal shooting at sea in T&T

While the T&T Coast Guard (TTCG) face mounting public pressure and intense international media scrutiny in the shooting death of one-year-old Ya Elvis Santoyo last Saturday, nefarious criminal elements have vowed to retaliate for the death of the one-year-old baby forcing the TTCG to elevate its threat level.

Senior intelligence coast guard sources and other intelligence sources confirmed that a top-level security meeting was held on Tuesday following information received about the threat connected to Sunday’s incident.

In light of the threat, an email titled “Elevated Threat Level,” was sent out to several departments of the coast guard which Guardian Media exclusively obtained that stated, “Be advised that the threat levied against the Coast Guard has been elevated. As such, ALL Officers and Ratings are to exercise extreme care and attention during the execution of their duties. Further, you are to be aware of your personal surroundings and you are strongly advised against the wearing of uniform when not on actual duty and in public.”

“Underworld elements from Venezuela and others have sent threats after the shooting,” one intelligence source revealed.

Guardian Media also understands that a specific threat was sent directly to a senior coast guard officer by someone well connected in Venezuela.

Three separate intelligence sources confirmed that this specific threat was sent via social media. The person told the officer they were aware of who he was and could locate him and also called him a “baby killer.”

Guardian Media sent text messages and left a voicemail for Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds on whether he had been aware of the elevated coast guard threats and if he had any comment. However, he did not respond up to press time.

The baby’s mother Darie Elvis Eliagnis Sarabia was also shot during the incident when a TTCG interceptor attempted to stop a pirogue just before midnight on Saturday last in the waters of the Columbus Channel near Moruga.

The Coast Guard, in a statement on Sunday evening last, said their personnel had opened fire in “self-defence,” after what they described as “aggressive manoeuvres” by the migrant craft that had entered into this country’s waters.

“The ramming effort by the suspect vessel which was larger than the ship’s boat caused the crew to fear for their lives and in self-defence, they fired at the engines of the suspect vessel in an attempt to bring it to a stop,” the statement had explained.

The officers said only when they boarded the pirogue did they find the wounded mother and the dead infant in her arms. Several others were detained and taken into custody.

The incident has since triggered a furore in Venezuela as dozens of Venezuelans bearing placards stood outside the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday demanding justice for the baby’s death.

A few days ago Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro asked the T&T Government to ensure there is an “exhaustive investigation” into the baby’s death, while Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido called the killing “unjustified” on his Twitter account. Several other Venezuelan and Trinidadian advocacy groups have also chimed in on ensuring there is a proper investigation.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley while describing the incident yesterday as an accident on his Facebook page as he responded to claims by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, said coast guard members were carrying out “reasonable and professional orders under international protocols and law.”

Hinds has also given the assurance in response to a question in the Senate that the TTCG and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) were conducting an investigation into the baby’s death.

But there still remains some lingering questions about the Rules of Engagement that Guardian Media had been trying to obtain responses from Lieutenant Kerron Valere the public affairs officer of the TTCG.

On Sunday, questions had been sent to Valere about this specific topic.

On Monday, he was again contacted by this journalist about whether his seniors had responded to the questions. Valere frankly stated, “We have no further comment.”

But Guardian Media was able to obtain exclusively the internal guidelines for the TTCG on protocols for opening fire, when you may fire without warning and the general principles for the Rules of Engagement.

Under the Rules of Engagement under the subheading Use of Force, it explicitly states that “the use of force shall be used as a last resort and shall be minimum effective force necessary to achieve the mission.”

The next subheading speaks to self defence indicating “ship captains and service personnel retain the right and obligation to exercise self-defence in response to the hostile act, demonstrated hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent.”

Under the Rules of Engagement, Threat assessment guidelines are also mandated that indicates, “this will be guided by the existing environmental factors (daylight or darkness, location, access to cover, proximity to civilians and or innocent bystanders, number of subjects and subject’s behaviour.”

It also implored coast guard offices to use non-lethal force when “service personnel shall as face practicable use non-lethal force where the threat is not hostile and or imminent.”

However, the last heading of the Rules of Engagement outlines when lethal force can be used stating, “service personnel are permitted to use lethal force for the purpose of achieving the mission, such lethal force shall be in accordance with the preceding clauses and shall be last resort.”

The clauses referenced are Directions for Opening Fire and General Guidelines for all coast guard personnel.

Clause two indicates: “Never use more force than the minimum necessary to enable you to carry your duties.”

Clause three says “Always try to handle the situation by other means than opening fire. If you have to fire: (i) Fire only aimed shots to stop engines; (ii) Do not fire more rounds than are absolutely necessary to achieve your aim.”

Clauses six indicates “Whenever possible a warning should be given before you open fire, while clause seven says, “A warning should be as loud as possible, preferably by loud hailer. It must: (i) Give clear orders to stop attacking or to halt, as appropriate. (ii) Release flares to get the attention of the vessel(s). (iii) State that fire will be opened if the orders are not obeyed.”

Critical is Clause 13 with the heading, “You may fire without warning (i) When hostile firing is taking place in your area and a warning is impracticable, (ii) Against a person carrying what you positively identify as a firearm if he is clearly about to use it for offensive purpose, (iii) Against a ship or boat that is about to illegally endanger a coast guard vessel.”

In this instance the first two parts of clause 13 did not apply to this situation, however, the third according to the coast guard did apply according to their release.

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