Coast Guard Gets Major US Sponsored Upgrade
The Belize National Coast Guard may have taken a credibility hit when a vessel was stolen from under its collective nose a few weeks ago. But they got the boat back - and their credibility got a shot in the arm as well today when the United States Army Southern Command and the Central American Regional Security Initiative made a major donation of hi tech hardware.
And we don't mean flashlights and toolkit... no... they got super-fast boats and heavy duty trucks.
Jim McFadzean was there:
Jim McFadzean Reporting
The latest high tech equipment and gadgets delivered to the Belize National Coast Guard this morning are intended to build the capacities of armed forces in small nations like Belize working in tandem with the United States to combat narco- traffickers and narco- terrorism.
H.E. Vinai Thummalapally - U.S. Ambassador
"The counter drug program is a mighty year bilateral effort led by the US Southern Command, and is designed to lay the ground-work for a regional security network of maritime patrollers, that complement the partner nations' current capabilities. Today, the Coast Guard is receiving 2 Boston Wailers, 370 outrage justice series boats, and 2 334 defender class SAFE boats, valued at $4 million US. The boats each include 3 4-stroke Mercury outboard engines that will be able to interdict and maneuver in coastal areas, and maintain sustained high-speed vector chases on the open seas. It includes a 10-year limited hull warranty, over-the-horizon tactical tracking system, a chart plotter with touch-screen, GPS navigation equipment, radar, a multiple-band radio, and shock mitigating seats."
With Belize's waters wide open to all kinds of illicit activities, including, from human to drug trafficking, the new vessels should significantly improve the capabilities of the coast guard to patrol and secure the country's coastal waters.
H.E. Vinai Thummalapally
"CARSI envisions strengthening and integrating security efforts from the US southern boarder all the way to Panama, including the coastal waters of the Caribbean. The desired objective of CARSI is to produce a safer and more secure region where criminal organizations no longer wield the power to destabilize or threaten national or regional security."
Lt. Gregory Soberanis - Flotilla Commander, BNCG
"Definitely for the law enforcement capability that it has, this is a very maneuverable boat. It has great maneuvering capability; it's designed to be a tactical boat. There are very few, if any, vessels that can out-maneuver a vessel or a craft of this size and this build."
Hon. Carlos Perdomo - Minister of Defense
"These two SAFE boats will be deployed to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye to patrol the northern sectors that shares the maritime boarders with Mexico, and includes areas of interests such as Corozal Bay, Sarteneja, Bacalar Chico, Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Caye Caulker. You know that these are Belize's most active maritime areas for tourism, recreational boating, and fishing, but you also know that these are the areas used by persons involved with trafficking of people and the movement of drugs from south to north."
In a light hearted moment at this morning's commissioning of the four vessels, the Minister of Defense, Honorable Carlos Perdomo, intent at mitigating some of the recent bad press surrounding the theft of firearms at the BDF headquarters, and the light craft stolen from the coast guard this month, shared this good humored anecdotal tidbit.
Hon. Carlos Perdomo
"I was at a christening about two weeks ago, and somebody at the christening said, 'The Coast Guard stopped us and they searched us, but let me tell you. They were courteous; they were professional, and when they came up to us, everybody respected them and were very cooperative.' And again, you see, things got back to me. And we have to do a lot of that because we have to make up for that little boat that was lost."
That quip was followed with an assurance from the Acting Commandant of the Belize National Coast Guard, that lessons have been learnt...
Commander Elton Bennett - Acting Commandant, BNCG
"Ambassador, I can assure you that these vessels will be properly safe-guarded, and will be operated by qualified personnel within the Coast Guard's standard operating procedures."
And, as if to get even with the media for that same bad press the Minister alluded to, we were fed, and immediately taken out to sea at full throttle, in one of the high performance SAFE defender vessels. While it wasn't for the faint of heart, we were given an impressive show.
Petty Officer Logan - Class II, BNCG
"We are moving at around 44.6 to 45.7 nautical miles per hour."
Lt. Gregory Soberanis
"This vessel can go up to 50-55 nautical miles per hour quite easily, and it provides great comfort. It allows us to respond to any law enforcement mission rapidly. It also allows us respond a search-and-rescue situation very quickly. So it definitely enhances our operational capability at sea."
The new sophisticated vessels will certainly allow the Coast Guard to expand its reaches in patrolling the volatile waters of this nation, but what remains to be seen is whether the BNCG is able to safeguard these new assets.
A select group of coast guard personnel have received training in the United States in the operations and maintenance of the new vessels.
The Boston Whalers are provided by the U.S. Southern Command Counter Drug Program while the two SAFE Defender Class boats, trucks, and spare parts are provided by the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) Program.