Caribbean Nations Prepare to Respond to Illicit Maritime Trafficking Threats

Caribbean Nations Prepare to Respond to Illicit Maritime Trafficking Threats

By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo
August 29, 2016

Geraldine, I'm trying different way to get these files to you. For the third consecutive year, coast guard members of 12 Caribbean partner nations gathered to share and learn new techniques on how to improve operational readiness on maritime assets. The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative - Technical Assistance Field Team (CBSI-TAFT) organized the “CBSI-TAFT Engineer Officer Conference 2016” at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters from August 16th to 18th. The CBSI is an important U.S. security strategy focused on citizen safety throughout the Western hemisphere, according to the U.S. Department of State. As part of CBSI, TAFT assists partner nations in developing maintenance, logistics, and procurement systems to improve their maritime capabilities. “We brought together 12 partner nations plus one non-governmental organization to discuss methods to enhance their maritime interceptor fleets of 65 feet and below for the purpose of optimizing maintenance, logistics, finance and personnel issues to increase their capabilities to have a vessel on scene to conduct interdictions, conduct deterrence patrols, and to help establish networks to counter transnational organized crime that flows into our region,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Jason Plumley, CBSI-TAFT officer-in-Charge at SOUTHCOM. One of the difficult challenges the Caribbean nations face when undertaking maritime interdictions is maintaining the operational availability of their vessels. “The vessels are not ready all the time the way the nations would like it to be to counter modern enemies and threats,” said Lt. Cmdr. Plumley. “The vessel’s critical low-availability rates have mandated or necessitated a change in how maintenance, logistics, and mission support is considered.” In this aspect, the conference offers partner nations a unique opportunity to increase regional cooperation, share information, and receive technical support through knowledge management principles. TAFT within the CBSI The TAFT is comprised of 15 U.S. Coast Guard and Army personnel. Among them, engineers, mechanics, electricians, and logisticians work together to focus on improving the fleet’s operational availability of each Caribbean partner nation. The field team is an initiative through the Department of State/SOUTHCOM to build partner capacity and enhance maritime readiness that is consistent with CBSI’s objectives. For its part, the CBSI brings most members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic together to collaborate in defeating security threats such as illicit trafficking assist public safety and security, and increase social justice. Currently, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, and Suriname are signatory members of the TAFT. As such, they are attempting to reverse the low operational availability trend of their maritime assets with a comprehensive approach to their shortfalls in technical troubleshooting and repair expertise, maintenance execution and scheduling, parts procurement/supply, and logistics and budgeting. Patrolling Caribbean waters Since its creation in 2013, CBSI-TAFT partner nations have seen positive results in their operational maritime fleets. The CBSI-TAFT availability metrics shows that from 2013 to 2015 the number of Caribbean countries’ patrols increased about 41 percent and vessel drug seizures grew by 68 percent. As a fleet’s activity increased due to more vessels being operationally available, the coast guards were able to increase their patrols by about 12 percent. “We work hard in cooperation with the coast guards of the Caribbean nations. We intercept daily drug shipments and illegal migrants who are trying to travel to Puerto Rico,” said Dominican Republic Navy Lieutenant Ramón Gonzalo Ferreira, Fleet Interceptor Vessels commander. Lt. Ferreira values the TAFT conference, because it allows partner nations to “share experiences in terms of vessels, to share what we have done, and to learn how other countries have resolved their problems.” Jamaican Defence Force Coast Guard Lieutenant (Junior grade) Christopher Gowey agreed. “This conference is important for partnerships within the region,” he said . “It allows us to learn best practices to apply in accordance with the assets that we have to maintain and extend the life of these assets.” According to Lt. Gowey, Jamaica’s main security challenge in terms of maritime patrols is eliminating the illicit narcotics trade. To counter their security threat, he added, Jamaica works together with the Caribbean countries to eradicate drug routes in their waters. “The Caribbean partnership is very, very important; I cannot stress enough the importance of these partnerships… The partnerships help to make things much easier for our forces to work together.” The positive results of maritime interdiction have also been noticed in Trinidad and Tobago. “We have been obtaining positive results as we’ve increased our patrols,” said Lieutenant Commander Rajesh Boodoo, engineer officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard. “We provide maritime assistance to other countries because Trinidad is considered the big brother for most of the small islands, especially Grenada and Saint Vincent.” Additionally, he said “it’s great networking; we don’t get many opportunities to network with each other even though we are part of the islands as we don’t see each other that often.” Ultimately, the focus of the conference was to create mission support plans for interceptor-sized boats among Caribbean partner nations for long-term sustainment of maritime assets. “It is a very close cooperation,” stated Lt. Cmdr. Plumley. “Sharing ideas, regionalizing efforts, and encouraging others to cooperate, it’s really a great effort.”
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