YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | Officers convicted of drug smuggling in Venezuela

TWO UKRAINIAN officers have been sentenced to nine years in a Venezuelan prison after drug smugglers attached cocaine to their ship’s hull, Fairplay has been told.

B Atlantic captain Volodymyr Ustymenko and second officer Yuriy Datchenko have been detained in Venezuela since the August 2007 discovery of cocaine on the bulker’s hull in Lake Maracaibo. Attorney Aurelio Fernandez of Clyde & Co – who represented the owner in the case and has knowledge of the criminal proceedings – confirmed to Fairplay that the officers have now been sentenced.

Asserting their innocence, Fernandez called the convictions “purely political” and added that “in any other country in the world they would have been acquitted”.

Fernandez said the latest two convictions follow eight-year sentences for two Greek officers of the tanker Astro Saturn. Cocaine was found attached to the Astro Saturn in Puerto La Cruz in November 2008.

Venezuela continues to detain vessels used by drug smugglers. The tanker Aqua has been detained in Lake Maracaibo since February, and the Chinese bulker Jin Yao was arrested this month.

“Any owner that travels to Lake Maracaibo or Venezuela in general, and has the bad luck to have one of these criminal organisations attach a drug device underwater, is at risk of losing the vessel and crew,” warned Fernandez.

“We have to convince the Venezuelan government that the situation has to be reversed, or else we’ll have 10 vessels laid up in Lake Maracaibo and owners won’t want to travel to Venezuela,” he said


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