U.S. donates pursuit boat to fledgling Belize Coast Guard

With the sum of Belize's internal, territorial and economic zone waters covering an area far greater than the eight thousand eight hundred sixty-six square miles of it's land, it seems like a no-brainer that Belize would outfit a first class navy. But nations with small populations, long coastlines and limited resources are in a bind. That's why Belize is grateful for any help it can get when it comes to protecting its waters.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
This morning, the Belize National Coast Guard service officially took ownership of a thirty-nine foot stinger class vessel, courtesy of the United States Coastguard.

The refurbished Colombian boat is the third such U.S. donation since last November. When it was confiscated by the U.S. government, it carried approximately two thousand pounds of cocaine. Now authorities hope it will be able to run down its illegal competition.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Home Affairs
“As the development continues, we endeavour to provide the Coast Guard with the best equipment and training necessary to get the job done.”

According to Minister of Home Affairs Ralph Fonseca, the gift is part of a strategy to provide enhanced security for the nation’s far flung maritime areas.

Ralph Fonseca
“We talked about a forward operational base at Calabash Caye, lots of action takes place there so we believe that if we have a presence there, an actual facility there at Calabash Caye, it’s going to prevent lots of these guys from taking the chances that they are taking now. And then of course at the actual Port itself, the port of Belize. And as you know, we have a facility at Hunting Caye and we want to refurbish that.”

Since its inauguration five months ago, the Belize National Coastguard Service has grown to include some fifty-six sailors. Today’s donation puts its fleet at eight vessels ... resources that Commandant Cedric Borland believes can make a difference in the drug trade.

Cedric Borland, Commandant, Belize National Coastguard
“Our patrolling area is much smaller than what the U.S. has, and so with the vessels we have and the manpower we have, we are able to manage. We expect of course to increase our fleet and increase our strength and that will give us more effectiveness at sea.”

That effectiveness was tested last Friday when officers responded to reports of drug runners in southern waters.

Cedric Borland
“There was a situation where reports came in that suspected vessel was in the area and we pursued but nothing has come out of that so far.”

Janelle Chanona
“So you lost the boat somewhere?”

Cedric Borland
“Am, not really the thing is that there is no connection that we have made at this time with that particular boat, but I won’t release any further information than that. But no connection we’ve made with that boat with any illegal substance.”

Ralph Fonseca
“I am satisfied that we are doing the best that we can and I’m also satisfied that we are partnering with them, and that they are doing what they can based on their budgetary constraints. ... All of us have got fiscal problems one way or the other, but we’re still moving forward.”

Janelle Chanona
“And you are making a difference you feel with the drug trade?”

Ralph Fonseca
“Very definitely, very definitely. Unfortunately, most of what is being accomplished you don’t hear about because it’s preventing them from coming through; they have to turn back or they have to dump whatever drugs they have because of the presence of the Coast Guard. It’s only when they actually defy us, we to run them down that we actually make a catch.”

The Coastguard has had several successful operations ... the most recent being a joint operation with U.S. officials to unearth an armoury of weapons on Deer Caye.

But that relationship is now entering unchartered waters as later this year the Coastguard Cutter Gentian is being decommissioned. The Gentian and her crew have provided technical and financial support to the region since 1997 under the Caribbean Support Tender project. But Captain David Treleaven, U.S. Military Liaison Officer based in Belize says the US assistance, and presence, isn’t sailing away.

Capt. David Treleaven, Military Liaison Officer, U.S. Forces
“An MTT, mobile training team, will deploy probably commercially. They’ll come in on American Airlines and they will conduct the same kind of training support that is being done, without the ship, until a new ship comes online in ’08.”

“I personally anticipate probably increase support in the near future. Nothing monumental, we have so many fronts, the United States is so overcommitted of course—I didn’t say overcommitted—so committed elsewhere overseas that of course the Western Caribbean is of importance, but certainly there are other priorities.”

Two members of the Belize Coastguard are currently onboard the Gentian as part of a training programme.