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PIRACY IN ST. CROIX! French National Says He Was Beaten, Stabbed, Shot And Robbed At Sea Off Of The South Shore

boat attack STX

The seized boat in dry dock on St. Croix

CHRISTIANSTED – A French national said that he was physically attacked, shot and robbed at sea off the coast of the South Shore of St. Croix in January, the Virgin Islands Free Press has learned.

It might be the first report of piracy at sea in the Virgin Islands in the last 350 years.

The Guy Briffa, 70,  said he was piloting a yacht from the Bahamas to Guadeloupe when he stopped to rest overnight in a protected anchorage on the southwest of St. Croix on January 14.

The next morning, 30 minutes after departing the anchorage at 11 a.m., while under power, and then located about 1.5 miles offshore, he was approached and boarded in an act of piracy by “two or three young men on board a big fishing boat.” Reports said two of the men were Hispanic and one was black.

“The men aggressively threatened him, shouting ‘drugs, money’ and punched him in the face and then stabbed/slashed his lower left leg,” he told the Caribbean Safety and Security Net. “They took cash and electronics from below. The captain was then shot in the right thigh at close range, severely wounding him, and left on the floor of his drifting boat when the men departed.”



The captain, although bleeding profusely and in severe pain was able to maneuver his boat back into the industrial harbor alongside a tug.

He tossed shells, winch handles, etc. at the side of the tug. It took about 45 minutes before he was able to get the attention of anyone on the much larger tug.

A tug crewmember eventually investigated the unusual noises and then summoned the police and ambulance. The victim was transported to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for his serious injuries, some three hours after the initial attack.

The boat was put in the care of the police, and later hauled for storage. After a period of hospitalization, the victim was stabilized and then returned to France, where he remains hospitalized after additional surgeries.

Meanwhile, Government House denied that the incident had happened when the Virgin Islands Free Press called spokesman Sam Topp for further details on the incident.

It was the day of Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s State of the Territory address and when Topp was asked about the alleged act of piracy off the coast of Frederiksted.

Topp said in a telephone interview from St. Thomas that the incident was related to a federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) exercise. Virgin Islands Police Department spokesman Kevin Jackson said he had no knowledge of the shooting incident reported near HOVENSA on the same day.

 

 

Briffa, although bleeding profusely from being shot at close range and in severe pain, was able to maneuver his boat into the Hovensa pier on St. Croix’s south side, coming to rest alongside a tug.

According to the CSSN report, Briffa tossed shells, winch handles and other objects at the side of the tug to get the attention of anyone on board. After about 45 minutes a tug crewmember eventually investigated the unusual noises and summoned the police and ambulance.

Briffa was transported to the Juan F. Luis Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for his serious injuries, some three hours after the initial attack.

Published reports said a member of the Virgin Islands boating community  spoke to the volunteer interpreter for the French-speaking sailor. According to the email, Briffa told doctors at the St. Croix hospital that he had been shot with a military or police-style weapon and that the shot had shattered the Frenchman’s femur.

 

“It may have happened a little further out than he was claiming,” Jackson told the St. Croix Source. He also said that the chief’s notes do not reflect the victim having been stabbed or that the boarders went below and stole any electronics.

“He did claim they demanded drugs and money,” Jackson said, and “he did tell them he had no money.”

Jackson also said the chief’s notes mention the gun shot to the right thigh but do not refer to a stab or slash wound.

According to the VIPD, agents from Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas were also on hand, although they took no action.

The VIPD took possession of the boat as a crime scene, Jackson said, and had it towed to Green Cay.

“At that point Coast Guard took it over,” Jackson said.

However, the Coast Guard has no record of ever being involved with the boat.

In the first place, according to Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer Ricardo Castrodad, the Coast Guard was not informed of the incident until after the initial police response. Castrodad noted that there had been no report or request for assistance broadcast on the mariners’ emergency radio channel.

“We were notified of the situation after the fact. That’s why there wasn’t a Coast Guard appearance,” Castrodad said.

In that report, a call from the Hovensa facility, the Coast Guard was told there had been an incident, that a boat had been robbed and the victim had suffered “an injured leg” and had required assistance to be taken to the hospital.

It wasn’t until two days later, Castrodad said, that the Coast Guard learned, almost accidentally, that Briffa had been shot.

The V.I. Police did contact the Coast Guard, he said, but insisted that his agency had never been involved with the boat.

“The Coast Guard never saw, touched, went aboard or had any control of the vessel,” he said.

Castrodad also said that, while the attack seems to fit the literal definition of the word piracy, from a legal standpoint that’s not the proper term.

“As to our understanding, it’s not considered piracy,” he said. “It was a crime, certainly, but the criminal attack took place within the territorial waters of the Virgin Islands. It wasn’t a stateless area of the high seas.”

Meanwhile, Biffra’s wife Michelle flew to St. Croix, where with the help of an interpreter was sought to find the boat.

The first thing she asked the translator was how to get the boat back as they did not know where it was, but it appeared there was not a police report for the incident. In fact, she said, VIPD Marine Unit officers asked her for information about the attack.

The boat was located in Christiansted and police turned it over to her. She said the boat’s GPS system was missing, among other things. The boat has a video camera in the cockpit and it might have been on during the attack. Police had taken the system’s SIMM card, which was returned to her, but she was told no one had had the time to review the four hours of video.

She attempted to hire someone to sail the boat to Guadeloupe, but said she had to cancel the voyage because of bad weather. Instead the boat was stored in a Christiansted boat yard. Briffa and his wife have since returned to France.

In a letter to the woman who had served as her interpreter for two weeks, Michelle wrote that Briffa has had a second operation and is struggling.

“Guy suffers a lot since his second operation and is depressed, where he has always been a positive person,” she wrote. “He cannot yet leave the hospital to go to the center of convalescence and rehabilitation because of his pain.”

She expressed gratitude to those in the territory who had helped her and her husband through their ordeal.

The CSSN said it wished to thank the “Good Samaritan” who assisted the victim with communications and translated a first-person report from the French to English-speaking people on St. Croix.

CSSN said its primary mission is the collection and dissemination of accurate information relating to crimes against yachts.

The organization suggests that if anyone finds themselves in a serious situation while outside their home country, particularly if they are not able to speak the local language, they should try to contact their country’s nearest Embassy or Consuler Services.

Consular officials can assist with a variety of helpful emergency resources, including qualified translators, communications with family/friends as well as with all of the appropriate local officials.

According to statistics, the greatest number of recent reports of piracy at sea in the Caribbean have occurred off the coast of St. Lucia.

modern day piracy routes

Map showing incidents of modern-day piracy.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 50 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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