As the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard (TTCG) commissioned their two new Cape Class vessels yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley urged the Coast Guard officers to utilise the vessels properly to cut down on human trafficking and the illegal gun trade.
Speaking during the commissioning ceremony at Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas, the Prime Minister said the officers have a duty to defend, own and explore T&T’s interests at sea from criminal elements. He said the horrendous accounts from local fishermen being attacked and trafficking victims are well-known.
“You are required to discourage that. You would have seen the amount of firearms on our streets and the effect that is having on our safety and our security, your first line of defence is the nation’s first line of defence. These are large crafts in so far as island nations are concerned but you carry on board the smaller vessels that can chase down and that can enter the coastal zones, make use of these facilities, you have good technology to determine who is around you, use it. You have good technology to strategise, to outthink, and to outrun, those who are bent on criminal activity- do that,” Rowley said.
The two vessels- TTS Port-of-Spain and TTS Scarborough- were built by Australian shipping company Austal and partly funded by the Australian Government, as a part of a programme that assists islands with border security. Both vessels were delivered to T&T in July. The vessels are equipped to carry 27 Coast Guard officers and have the capacity to carry 12 additional people. They have a top speed of 20 knots and a 3,000 nautical mile range.
Yesterday, Rowley recalled his interactions with Coast Guard officers when he visited other Caribbean islands for work. He said he was confident that the financial investment for the vessels was in the best hands.
He said the officers on board these two vessels will be required to patrol and secure a quarter of a million square kilometres- or 50 times the size of Trinidad- during their operations.
“Our men and women with the charge and responsibility of protecting the waters, protecting us from comers who would harm us, whether they are gun runners, human traffickers, or contraband specialists, it is the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard that stand between us and them. From time to time we suffer when we are penetrated but just remember, it is not the easiest of tasks and it is the largest of areas,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the two vessels were now the major assets of the TTCG, allowing the Coast Guard to have an effective presence in the Atlantic Ocean.
Tobago not left out
And with just one week to go before the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election on December 6, Rowley made special reference to Tobago. Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Ancil Dennis was also present at the ceremony.
“The people of Tobago, particularly Eastern Tobago, who have been feeling naked and exposed because our flag have not been flying as it should, our vessels have not been cruising as they should, our patrols have not been staying out at night as they should, we now have equipment that address those issues, so whether it is Charlotteville, whether it is Crown Point, whether it is Matura, Blanchiessuse or Icacos they want to know that when they go to bed at night that you are out there, standing between us and those who would come to us with ill intent,” Rowley said.
He said these vessels were specially designed for Australia’s border patrol. Australia faces similar problems to T&T with porous borders, he said.
The Prime Minister said he was expecting “nothing but good news” from the use of these vessels.
“At this time, we are stretched for resources but we have prioritised our expenditure on these resources, so keep your complaints to yourself, make them work, it’s all that we have, it’s the best that we have and attitude substitutes a long way for absence of resources, that phrase that people use to explain their lack of initiative and their unwillingness to do hard work- of course that doesn’t apply to the Coast Guard,” he said.
He told the senior officers of the TTCG that they would have the Government’s full support to “discourage” those type of officers from their ranks. He said those who remain will rise to the top and deliver as the “expenditure anticipated.”
The Prime Minister told the Coast Guard officers they have been entrusted with a very ‘special’ job.
“Those who would harm us on our waters will not give us notice, they will observe your coming and going to determine when they will determine it is their time to enter, so you have to be on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year,- when the rest of the nation is sleeping, when we are having Carnival, when we are partying, when we are having weddings, there are others on the outside who are looking and that is precisely when you will have to be on the job,” he said.
He said the TTCG would also have to work with their counterparts from other Caribbean islands, Venezuela, the US and Australia. The Prime Minister also encouraged the Coast Guard’s executive to recruit and train the best from the nation’s schools to take the ranks of the Coast Guard when they retire.
“We have tens of thousands of young people, many of whom will aspire to wear the uniform of the Coast Guard- select wisely, select carefully and smile when you do so, because even as many countries today are talking about opening up their country and their opportunities to women, tell them in Trinidad and Tobago, we were always open to equality of status in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi spoke to the media after the ceremony. He said the vessels were part of a phased approach to properly secure this country’s borders.
In July, when the vessels were first brought to Trinidad, the Prime Minister said the Government was in talks with Austal to create a maintenance hub in Trinidad. Al-Rawi gave an update on those plans, saying, “A special purpose company has been incorporated which was the old Cari dock asset, there is an entire shipyard facility there – government is in discussions with entities that have expressed interest there with the Australian government as well as we look to bringing that Chaguaramas Point into development, into effect, as you are well aware, Government has an arrangement with China as we look to the south of Trinidad and that project is moving ahead quite quickly….so whether it’s oil and gas or just shipbuilding and maintenance aspects it’s firmly in gear.”
Al-Rawi said the five-month gap between the vessels’ arrival and their commission was to ensure that the TTCG officers were well trained and capable to use the vessels.
National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds also expressed his pleasure with the commissioning of the vessels.
“For one thing, these vessels are able to remain much longer on the job than other capabilities that we would have had and certainly go to places where we don’t frequent or go to at all…this is only a significant part of the arrangements, putting in place as we focus because as you know our border control and management and security is one of the highest priorities the government of Trinidad and Tobago but certainly it is the highest priority for the Ministry of National Security,” Hinds said.
He said the Government is also working towards acquiring other types of vessels to fit the country’s security needs.
Hinds said the TTS Scarborough will not be permanently stationed in Tobago.
“The vessel will be deployed all around Trinidad and Tobago…there are two vessels stationed in Tobago, they will be maintained and they will continue to be there. We have the 360 radar system which protects not only Trinidad and Tobago but other islands of the Caribbean that we have extended our professional services and fellow Caricom committee with, so the vessel will not be stationed in Tobago but it will certainly be in the constant service of Tobago,” Hinds said.