The Dominican Republic Navy received a donated 37’ Boston Whaler interceptor patrol boat, which includes equipment and spare parts, as part of the cooperation agreements between the Dominican Republic's Armed Forces and the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
U.S. Ambassador James W. Brewster and Vice Admiral Miguel Enrique Peña Acosta, commander of the Dominican Republic Navy, were present at the delivery ceremony, held at the “27 de febrero” Naval Base, in Santo Domingo, on September 30th.
As part of the agreement between the two partner nations, 11 patrol boats have already been delivered. They are among the key tools used for maritime interdiction operations.
“From the moment the first patrol boats arrived in March of 2009, I was able to see for myself the quality of these wonderful vessels, designed to operate in the rough waters of the Caribbean,” Vice Adm. Peña Acosta told Diálogo. “They are outfitted with high-tech gear that enables us to use them in a variety of atmospheric conditions to support search and rescue operations, to conduct interdictions of piracy or illegal migration, and to aid in humanitarian relief operations, as we did when the latest earthquake struck Haiti and also during Hurricane Matthew,” he added.
With this unit, the Dominican Navy has substantially increased its effectiveness in pursuing criminals, as well as having gained greater range for the maritime missions it conducts in its strategic alliance with the Dominican Republic’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DNCD, per its Spanish acronym). The patrol boats are being used in different regions of the country, specifically at Cabo Rojo, Barahona, Las Calderas and Punta Cana.
“From August 2014 to now, we have seized more than 10 tons of drugs, thanks to this equipment,” emphasized Vice Adm. Peña Acosta.
“As commandant of the Dominican Navy, I can tell you that these 37-foot Boston Whaler interceptor patrol boats have been a huge benefit to our naval operations, as they are 'the tip of the spear' in the fight against drug trafficking, terrorism, and illegal activities that occur in our area of responsibility. Now we can respond in a matter of minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to the daily events that happen in our nation's territorial waters.”
The Dominican Navy is hoping to use the equipment to close down the Caribbean region for organized crime.
Speaking about this delivery, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Chris Bernotavicius, chief of the Naval Section at the Office of the Security Cooperation of the U.S. Embassy in Dominican Republic, expressed his satisfaction with the decisive way in which both countries have channeled their energies into such bilateral exchanges, having already enjoyed decades of cooperation in different programs, activities and exercises. “We've really seen a dynamic evolution over time. Now we have programs in place to provide training to different branches of the Armed Forces, with equipment for increasing our forces' operational capacity, and plenty of forums for sharing the lessons learned,” he said.
“Due to the nature of the Dominican Republic as an island, it is highly strategic for cooperating in maritime interdiction operations, not only in fighting drug trafficking, but also for search and rescue missions, aid to fishermen, and the interdiction of illegal voyages; above all, those made towards Puerto Rico,” stated Lt. Cmdr. Bernotavicius.
The Dominican Navy regularly cooperates with the DNCD, the U.S. Coast Guard's Seventh District, the Joint Interagency Task Force – South, and the U.S. Southern Command.
Vice Admiral Edmundo Félix Pimentel, president of DNCD in the Dominican Republic, reported that in the last four years approximately 56,000 kilograms of drugs were seized and 118,000 people were arrested for the possession of illegal substances, thanks to the Dominican Navy's interventions using the interceptor patrol boats.
“It is because of these joint operations that, in 2015 alone, we conducted nearly 2,500 raids and some 70,000 operations on land, air, and sea. Among the drugs seized during that year, there were nearly 9,000 kilograms of cocaine, more than 1,000 kilos of marijuana, and 44 kilos of heroin,” he added.
“On January 25th, with the collaboration of other security agencies in the country, the DNCD found 150 packages of cocaine and heroin inside a shipping container at Multimodal Caucedo Port. In another operation, 575 packages of cocaine were seized off the shores of Cumayasa, in San Pedro de Macorís, in a joint operation between the Navy, the DEA and the DNCD. That is to say that, in 2016 to date, we estimate that around 3,000 kilos of illegal substances have been seized,” said Vice Adm. Pimentel.
“We have instructed all of the members of the drug-enforcement body to redouble their operations against drug trafficking and organized crime.” He also acknowledged the commitment that all of their members have made to “working with the Ministry of Defense, the National Police and other agencies to fight the illicit trafficking of narcotic substances with resolve and determination while also respecting human rights and the dignity of all persons.”
Lt. Cmdr. Bernotavicius told Diálogo that each year the “U.S. donates more than $2 million in equipment and materials to the Dominican Republic through the drug-fighting program. The U.S. also collaborates on even larger-scale efforts, such as the construction of a pier and an operations center for this Caribbean nation's Navy on Isla Saona. Funds are also made available to the Dominican Republic for facilitating training, setting up exchange forums, and building multilateral and regional relationships. In addition, an unquantifiable amount of human capital is devoted to these projects by the personnel of the agencies involved.”