Fair Winds and Following Seas for Honduras
By Iris Amador/Diálogo December 12, 2017On November 4th, 2017, Honduras received its first Logistics Support and Cabotage Vessel (BAL-C, per its Spanish acronym), in Puerto Cortés, on the north coast of the country. The ship, christened Gracias a Dios, is the Honduran Naval Force’s (FNH, per its Spanish acronym) most modern vessel for humanitarian assistance missions, to strengthen operations in the fight against transnational crime, and to defend the nation’s sovereignty.
“The Gracias a Dios will serve to boost our maritime shield in the Atlantic,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said at the welcoming ceremony. “[We will] have a force to reduce to the bare minimum all the pressure from narcotrafficking.”
Honduras commissioned the construction of the vessel to Colombia’s Science and Technology Corporation for Naval, Maritime, and Riverine Industry Development in 2016. On October 27th, 2017, the BAL-C Gracias a Dios departed from Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, bound for its new home. The Honduran crew traveled to Colombia on September 15th, to train and bring the ship home.
Colombian Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas emphasized the solid bonds of cooperation between both nations. “This is an act of brotherhood, of closeness, of commitment. It is evidence of Colombia’s willingness to help this nation regain full security.”
“The vessel increases the Honduran Armed Forces’ capacity, the efficiency with which they carry out their work, and the beneficial impact our naval force has on people,” Rear Admiral Jesús Humberto Benítez, FNH commander told Diálogo. “With Gracias a Dios, we will be able to serve communities in remote, hard-to-reach parts of the country, so they feel Honduras’s support, and know they’re not alone.”
One of the strengths of BAL-C Gracias a Dios is its capacity to move in shallow waters without having to dock, allowing it to reach beaches and other coastal communities directly. This increases the efficiency of the Honduran Armed Forces’ humanitarian assistance missions.
“This vessel helps us ferry food, medicine, fuel, supplies, medical equipment, and all kinds of aid,” Rear Adm. Benítez said. “Resources would get lost being passed from boat to boat. That will no longer be the case. This acquisition represents a strengthening, a great moment of growth for the Naval Force, the Honduran state, and the communities we serve.”
The ship can transport 210 tons of cargo, 11,000 gallons of gasoline, and 5,000 gallons of aircraft fuel to supply naval stations in the Caribbean region of Honduras. Once the official ceremony was over, the crew of the Gracias a Dios prepared for its first mission: to bring supplies, school materials, medicine, and a medical team to implement a medical brigade in Puerto Lempira, in eastern Honduras.
“At the stroke of midnight, we were heading off to La Mosquitia,” FNH Lieutenant Israel Onil Sánchez, captain of Gracias a Dios, told Diálogo. They brought 150 tons of fuel, three trucks to serve as mobile clinics, water filters, environmentally friendly stoves, clothing, shoes, baby items, school supplies, food, and other goods through the sandbar at Caratasca to an area they couldn’t reach before. “What greater reward than to start a mission like this.”
Two days later, the 15 crewmembers, along with the Standing Committee on National Contingencies, a humanitarian aid organization of the Honduran government, docked at Puerto Lempira, the capital of the department of Gracias a Dios for which the BAL-C Gracias a Dios was named. “The objective was to immediately put the vessel on a mission,” Rear Adm. Benítez explained.
By mission’s end, 5,000 Hondurans had received care. “People would come to see if we could still help them,” Lt. Sánchez said. A woman who had not arrived in time, due to the distance she had to travel, approached them. Seeing her in anguish as she gave her two-year-old daughter a little bag of sugar to suck on, the crew was moved. “We gave her things of our own and some of the left-over supplies,” he concluded.