In the past few weeks, there's been so much controversy about Coast Guard vessels donated by the US Government. That's after the Defense Minister John Saldivar started using them to ferry around his basketball team. The US publicly frowned at that practice, forcing the Prime Minister to declare, "that sort of use, is now absolutely and completely off the table."
So that's now the law for the police department which today received its own mini-fleet of high speed vessels from the US.
Our 7News team was at the Coast Guard Headquarters in Belize City for the handing-over ceremony, and Daniel Ortiz has that story:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
At the Coast Guard's Headquarters, the US Embassy's Charge D affaires handed over 3 new high-speed vessels to the Police Commissioner. They signed the documents, making it final, and as soon as all the formalities were done, the VIP's boarded one of the boats for a Friday morning test run. They got the first joy ride in what will be the flagship vessels for the Anti-Narcotics Unit. And, who isn't grateful to get new toys?
Allen Whylie - Commissioner of Police
"Thank you all for making today a reality. I can assure that those assets will be maintained they'll be properly utilized by the personnel. We are also appreciative of the efforts done in terms of the training to ensure that our persons are competent."
These three Colombian vessels were actually vessels seized from narco-traffickers who were caught by the authorities. Ironically, these vessels that were once used in illicit activities will now be used to help combat lawlessness in Belize's waterways.
Adrienne Galanek - ChargÃ© D'affaires, US Embassy
"Two were seized by the coast guard and a third one was seized by the ANU. These seizures deserve to be celebrated because now these vessels will combat illicit narcotic activity and trafficking in Belize. To refurbish the boats our INL and DEL sections worked hand in hand with the ministry of home affairs and ANU to assess necessary capabilities and to appropriately upgrade and outfit these vessels with electronic communications and navigational equipment."
It's a 450,000 US-dollar donation that the US Government is making, on top of the 40 Million-Dollar US dollars that Belize has already been gifted over 9 years. These boats will revive the maritime capabilities that the Police Department used to have.
The Commissioner believes that the Anti-Narcotics Unit, which used to be known as the Anti-Drug Unit, will put them to good use to catch drugs
Allen Whylie - Commissioner of Police
"The Belize Police Department used to have a maritime unit, over the years that became defunct. The Anti-Drugs Unit when they were formed had a few vessels and again vessels are a very costly venture to maintain and to equip. And so through the years, those vessels became in a state of disrepair. These vessels that we were given today were retrofitted; some of them were for the anti-narcotics unit and so they were retrofitted to allow the unit to expand in terms of their role in their maritime domain. They are leading the charge in terms of our anti-drug fighting efforts. And I'm certain that now that they have these vessels they'll be put to proper use to work in a collaborative fashion with other law enforcement agencies while also they'll be able to operate independently on their own. And I'm certain that will lead to continued success at that unit."
Notably, there was no minister of government at today's event - despite the fact that there are two Ministers with responsibility for Home Affairs.
The Coast Guard has trained the Anti-Narcotics Unit in maintaining these vessels. For more in depth work, a third party has been retained with a maintenance contract - which is underwritten by the US.