The Pirates of Lake Maracaibo

Lake Maracaibo’s pirates: Less Henry Morgan, more Captain Phillips.

Last Saturday, eight fishermen left their homes in San Francisco (South of Maracaibo) in the early hours to go to work. They didn’t return to their homes. Their families and friends became worried and the local police started a search.

Three days later, authorities found them dehydrated on an oil rig in Lake Maracaibo, near the city of Cabimas. Pirates robbed them of their boats and left them stranded. The next day, the pirates shoot another fisherman and two others are now missing.

Pirates have been wreaking havoc for quite some time in the entire Lake: shooting at fishermen and robbing them of either their boats or their engines. And they’re not afraid of killing anyone who puts up any sort of resistance.

Back in 2012, the entire situation was quite similar. I even made a post about that (with a little help from Quico). And just like back then, the oil industry is victim of these criminals as well. Reuters’ Alexandra Ulmer mentions them in her latest report about how robberies of machinery and scraps in oil facilities across the country are hurting PDVSA.

In January, for instance, PDVSA reported one of its employees was killed during a night-time hold-up by seven criminals at a well near Lake Maracaibo.

The “pirates” of Lake Maracaibo, a massive bay where the country’s oil boom took off a century ago, target cables and devices that control gas injection, according to several PDVSA employees who work on the water and spoke on condition of anonymity. Small groups of armed men on boats typically zip up to an oil platform at night and hold up workers, stealing everything from microwaves to wallets to machinery, according to oil workers.

That crimps operations at wells, and at times forces them to shut down entirely. A shortage of boats – due to stolen motors and a scarcity of parts- further curbs surveillance on the lake…

…the “pirates” attack oil platforms between five and six times a month, estimated Francisco Luna, a machinist in Lake Maracaibo and a leader of Venezuela’s oil workers’ federation.

“The platforms are in isolated areas. It’s easier than stealing in the city,” he said.”

The problem has been somewhat acknowledged by the government, but there’s no concrete response to reinforce security on the lake. The families of local fishermen commend their loved ones’ safety to God today, just like they did three years ago.

It’s a strange twist of fate that the same Lake where the famous buccaneer Henry Morgan made one of his notorious raids (March of 1669) is witnessing pirates once again. But these ones have more in common with their counterparts in Somalia, Guinea or Southeast Asia than with Jack Sparrow.

It’s no real surprise, though: if the authorities can’t (or don’t want to) face down the gangs in the cities, why should we expect them to do better on the water?