Ten years ago - if you had a maritime emergency or a crime on the seas - you'd call the BDF Maritime Unit.
But 7 years ago, those duties were handed over to a then fledgling Coast Guard. Since then, with major funding and support from the US Government, that law enforcement agency has moved from strength to strength - with a few hiccups along the way.
Today it celebrated those strengths in a seventh anniversary celebration. Monica Bodden was there:...
Monica Bodden reporting
The Belize Coast Guard was formed on the twenty eight of November 2005 - and ever since then - they have commemorated their anniversary annually.
This year marks their 7th Anniversary - and this morning the official ceremonies were held at the Coast Guard Headquarters on the Western Highway.
The one hundred and fifty two members both men and women were on full display today in front of an audience that included dignitaries and military personnel.
At this morning's ceremony, Captain John Borland, Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard was also promoted to Rear Admiral - the highest rank in the maritime agency.
Admiral John Borland - Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard
"Well there are two accomplishments here today; the 7th year anniversary and my promotion to flag rank as Rear Admiral. The first significance of our anniversary being that the coast guard has been in existence for 7 years now. We started back in November 28, 2005, we are like two days passed the actual formation but circumstance dictated that we do it today."
"What that means is that when my unit which was the Maritime Wing of the Defence Force parted ways and became Coast Guard - we were formed up 54 persons - 44 of us being former military and 10 being policemen. Since then the Coast Guard has grown from strength to strength and we've actually reached an establishment of 152. As I said in my remarks earlier on we are in the process of getting an approval to actually double the strength of the Belize Coast Guard from 152 to 332."
Dubbed as the policemen of the seas - the responsibility of the Belize Coastguard includes all maritime laws at seas.
Admiral John Borland
"Our roles are many. Our responsibilities include the enforcement of all maritime laws at seas - we are actually the policemen of the seas. Many of these responsibilities we carry out we enforce unilaterally but many of them we do on a joint forces concept utilizing the agency concept because for some cases we work on behalf of a competent authority. For example; If we make an arrest for a fisheries violation, the case is turned over to the Fisheries Department to be prosecuted, likewise a drug seizure, interdiction or an arrest - the case is turn over to the police force. We would appear in court as witnesses. The whole chain of custody process lies with us in making sure the case is sound proof when it goes to the courts."
"The Coast Guard as I said performed mainly law enforcement duties but we have a number of humanitarian duties to support the various authorities in disaster response and disaster relief search and rescue evacuation. Then we have our environmental duties of natural resource protection. We work very closely with the Department of the Environment and for maritime safety we work very closely with the Port Authority. We would form joint teams to prosecute any incidents involving the environment - to see if the vessel is grounded, if there is an oil spill - we would put a task force together, we would provide the security and we would provide the initial response but eventually we hand those responsibilities over to the competent authorities be it Port Authority, Environmental Department, Fisheries Department. We worked on behalf of a lot of organizations but we also work independently for many of the law enforcement duties."
Admiral Borland spoke about the continuous growth and development of the organization.
Admiral John Borland
"My promotion to flag rank today to me is important, but if I wasn't promoted ot the rank Rear Admiral - it would have mean nothing to me. I could have been promoted to Rear Admiral 3 years ago but I decided that I was not qualified to be promoted to Rear Admiral and therefore I had to the Navy Royal College - the Navy Command College to get command under my belt and be promotable. The promotion is not a big thing to me. What is important to me is the continuous growth and development of the Coast Guard. The most important resources is our people - to make sure they are well trained, equip and they are prepared and always ready to go whenever the alarm goes up we've got to respond. Every decision we make can result in the loss of a life and that is what we lived by - we stand by our core values and our motto which says that we are ready for anything "UTRINQUE PARATUS," that's how we live."
And before wrapping up this morning's ceremony, members of the Belize Coast Guard gave a special demonstration of what they do.
The Coast Guard's next goal is to double up the number of men and women in uniform.
Belize Coastguard reaches a milestone
It was a proud day for the Belize Coast Guard as two significant achievements were celebrated; the seventh anniversary of the service was on November twenty-eighth and the commandant has been promoted to a higher rank. Both occasions were rolled into a grand ceremony this morning. The uniforms were crisp, the band was on point and family and friends stood proudly with the officers as they reflected on the growth of the Coast Guard, which started out with fifty-four men, six skiffs and a huge task. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
Today, the Belize Coast Guard commemorated seven years of service with the usual pomp and circumstance at the George Price Highway Headquarters. While the force is relatively young, there were plenty achievements that made the officers proud.
Rear Admiral John Borland, Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
“When my unit, which was the maritime wing of the Belize Defence Force parted ways and became the Coast Guard, we were formed up fifty-four persons; forty-four of us being former military and ten being policemen. The force, the Coast Guard has grown from strength to strength and we have actually reached an established strength of a hundred and fifty-two and as I said in my remarks earlier on, we are in the process of getting approval to actually double the strength of the Coastguard from a hundred and fifty-two to three hundred and thirty-two.”
Ret’d Col. George Lovell, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security
“The recent acquisition of the Boston Walers vessel, the defender class safe boats and other maritime assets and just recently the creation of the Coast Guard special warfare unit are testimony to Captain Borland’s effort. My understanding is the special warfare unit is catered to execute unconventional and special operations that have strategic impact on national security along our coastline ranging from high risk boarding operations, amphibious assault, sub-surface operations, counter narcotics and counter terrorism operations. The construction of an operating base in the San Pedro Ambergris Caye, which is scheduled for completion in April 2013. The recent construction of the main pier at Hunting Caye and the planned arrangements for the construction of another operating base also at Hunting Caye, which is scheduled for commencement next month are all a part of this Belize Coast Guard modernization effort.”
The celebrations were two-fold as John Borland, the Commandant of the Coast Guard was officially promoted from Captain to Rear Admiral, the highest possible rank.
“It is my distinct pleasure to be promoting captain John Borland to the Rank of Flag Officer as Rear Admiral in the Belize Coast Guard today.”
LT Gregory Soberanis, Operations Officer, Belize Coast Guard
“The Prime Minister of Belize, acting upon the recommendation of the minister of National Security, has placed special trust and confidence in the leadership, patriotism, integrity and abilities of Captain John A. Borland. In view of these special qualities and his demonstrated potential to serve in the higher grade, Captain John A. Borland is promoted to the permanent Grade of Rear Admiral in the Belize Coast Guard effective, August first, 2012 by the order of the Minister of National Security.”
“I would also like to announce that the Coast Guard Board, chaired by the honorable Minister of National Security, the honorable John Saldivar, has approved the promotion of five other commission officers and several deserving non-commission officers and seamen from within the lower ranks of the Coast Guard.”
As Rear Admiral, Borland was presented with new colors and his flag.
Lt. Gregory Soberanis
“The Coast Guard authorizes individuals flags to those who warrant them by virtue of their office. The Belize Coast Guard has incorporated the use of flags to signify the presence of a flag officer. This flag, signifying the presence of a rear admiral will be present at all official military functions attended by Rear Admiral Borland and will be visibly displayed in Rear Admiral Borland’s Office and flown at the Coast Guard Headquarters as long as he is present.”
Rear Admiral John Borland
“As a poor and lonely boy at that time, I never imagined a day like this would be possible but my dad always believed in me and always insisted that I would be somebody some day. Well, here I am at the pinnacle of a twenty-five year career in the military with a whole lot to be thankful for and a whole lot of people to thank.”
Reaching the highest rank is by no means an indication that Borland’s work is done. He plans to continue to implement the Coast Guard’s core Strategy, which seeks to address the root causes of maritime crime.
Rear Admiral John Borland
“The Coast Guard strategy of which I speak is the overarching policy document that guides the development of the Coastguard. Even my studies at the War College and my promotion to flag rank here today are included. While it is a fifteen year strategy, we are currently in the medium portion which extends from the year 2010 to 2015. Both Mahan and Corbett are included in our defensive and offensive strategies, where in the former we are fighting crime in the coastal and littoral regions and in the latter, we are combating illicit trafficking and transnational crime in our territorial seas and beyond. The Coast Guard Strategy calls for continuous development, modernizing and increasing in capacities that will take the Coast Guard from strength to strength until we are completely able to dominate our sea spaces which are almost twice as much as our land areas as we heard earlier.”
Delahnie Bain for News Five.
The support of the US Southern Command and the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force in Key West, Florida were also acknowledged at today’s ceremony.