Upgrades at Inagua to Lead to Better Border Protection

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The crews of P38 and P39, the two, 27ft Vigilant Patrol Craft that will be used to patrol the coastal, territorial limits of Great Inagua and actively participate in the interception and prevention of illegal migrant smuggling, poaching and other maritime threats, put the boats through their paces following the commissioning ceremonies held in Matthew Town, Inagua on Friday, January 25, 2008. (Photo/Patrick Hanna) 

By: Matt Maura

MATTHEW TOWN, Inagua
— The commissioning of two 27ft. Vigilant Patrol craft at Matthew Town is the first step in a series of “deliberate actions” the Government of The Bahamas will take to allow the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to more vigorously participate in the interception and prevention of illegal migrant, gun and drug smuggling and any other maritime threats that may exist in the southern Bahamas, Minister of National Security, the Hon. Tommy Turnquest said Friday.

Mr. Turnquest said the commissioning of the vessels is the beginning of the Government’s implementation of a long-term strategy to properly outfit HMBS Matthew Town so that the Defence Force officers and marines stationed there will be able to more effectively discharge their mandate of enforcing maritime law in the southern Bahamas, while providing better protection for the country’s porous border.

That long-term strategy will also include “significant” infrastructural enhancements to the Base and will further involve improvements to the dock and ramp to facilitate the two, 27-ft craft and other larger craft expected to come on stream, as well as the construction of additional facilities to accommodate officers and marines and the eventual dredging of the harbour to accommodate even larger vessels.

The infrastructural improvements will coincide with a further expansion of the Force’s sea and air assets later this year and the construction of a detention facility which Mr. Turnquest said would facilitate the processing of illegal immigrants in Inagua.

This, he noted, would obviate the need to transfer immigrants all the way to Nassau for processing. The construction of the detention facility is also expected to “greatly reduce” processing costs.

“We have long concluded that to effectively improve our national security, a base in Inagua was critical,” Mr. Turnquest said. “In fact, over 10 years ago, a Defence Force base was established here in Inagua, but no boats were assigned here to make it effective.

“Today represents a positive and tangible step in this direction. The two, 27-ft boats (P38 and P39) will allow the Defence Force to establish and maintain a visible presence in the southern Bahamas and deter criminal intent in the area and be able to respond in a timely and efficient manner to maritime threats.”

Mr. Turnquest said the upgrades to HMBS Matthew Town, is part of the Defence Force’s overall plan to take deliberate steps to have fully functional and operational bases in several sectors of The Bahamas. Bases will be established in the northern and central Bahamas.

He said The Bahamas has had tremendous challenges over the years in dealing with the trafficking and smuggling of illegal drugs, firearms and migrants.

“This has been because of our porous borders and the difficulty in policing the 100,000 square miles within our archipelago. We recognize the vulnerability to these security threats, particularly in stemming the flow of firearms and drugs and their relevance to our crime situation,” he added.

Citing crime related statistics for 2007, Mr. Turnquest said more than half of the murders committed last year were done so with the use of a firearm, while 40 per cent of them were drug-related or revenge killings. Firearms also figured prominently in the more than 500 armed robberies committed last year.

Most of those guns, he said, were brought into the country illegally through the firearms and/or drug trade.

“For a country that does not manufacture firearms, has strict gun laws and is not a major producer or consumer of illicit drugs, we must improve on protecting and securing our borders and stop the drugs and firearms from coming into our country,” Mr. Turnquest said.

“It is also disconcerting that we continue to hear that illegal immigrants could move up our chain of islands undetected. We have had cases where boatloads of illegal immigrants have made it into Nassau Harbour. This is unacceptable and must be stopped.”

Mr. Turnquest said the Government will provide the Royal Bahamas Defence Force with the necessary and adequate resources to stem the tide of illegal activity in The Bahamas. The Force’s fleet is expected to further expand during the course of 2008 with the arrival of 10 vessels.

These include the first two of four 40ft Interceptor patrol boats donated by the United States of America under the banner of “Operation Enduring Friendship” which are expected to arrive in The Bahamas by mid-March; the arrival of two, 40ft Dauntless vessels in April and the arrival of two, 48ft Dauntless vessels in June.

Plans for the purchase of two, 60ft mid-range patrol craft are currently being finalized and it is expected that the order should be placed before the end of March.

Mr. Turnquest said that in addition to “this unprecedented acquisition of sea-going vessels”, the Government has funded the purchase of 2 aircraft, a Vulcan Air and a Cessna Caravan. The air assets are expected to be delivered later this year.

“Taken together, the Defence Force will be in a greatly enhanced position to stop drug and firearms traffickers, stop migrant smugglers and protect our marine resources from poachers,” he added.