“The country is not at war out in the seas; the country is at war on the ground, in our streets and in the towns of Trinidad and Tobago.”- Kamla Persad-Bissessar
The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard is the largest naval unit of the English-speaking Caribbean and has responsibility for the security of the maritime domain of the Southernmost island of the Caribbean archipelago. It must contend with the trade in illegal narcotics and weapons that emanate from South America. The capability and operational efficacy of the TTCG, therefore, has a direct bearing on the ability to deter the shipment of such contraband. Additionally, the TTCG is responsible for the security of Trinidad and Tobago’s large off-shore oil and natural gas facilities and has the capability of conducting long-range humanitarian and disaster relief operations assistance to other Caribbean nations in post-disaster recovery.
Here’s the history…
In 2008, Austal signed a contract worth approximately US $73 million to build six 30 meter aluminum fast patrol craft for the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago with additional contracts for a comprehensive maintenance package and crew training services.
The contract followed a similar Austal patrol boat series recently delivered to the Government of Kuwait, the Yemen Ministry of Defense, the Australian Customs Service and the New South Wales Water Police.
The patrol boats would have supported the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard in providing sustained surveillance in the country’s internal waters, the archipelagic territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone.
Each vessel, which was scheduled for delivery in 2010, would have had a 12 man crew, a maximum speed of 40 knots and would have been armed with three machine guns and a 20 mm cannon.
During the construction period at Austal’s facilities in Western Australia, Austal had begun a training program including familiarization with vessel operation, ship based engineer training and maintenance training for shore-based support personnel to Sailors of the TTCG.
It was the expectation that following delivery of the vessels, a five year comprehensive maintenance and support services program which would have included scheduled planned and preventative maintenance support, unscheduled maintenance, management and performance of annual surveys and maintenance periods as well as shore-based engineering support would have been provided.
The fast patrol craft would have played a major role in ensuring the safety of shipping, as well as the preservation of the marine environment. The vessels would have also targeted the illegal trafficking of drugs, safety at sea and perform search and rescue duties.
September 29th, 2010
These OPVs which were ordered under the Patrick Manning administration for fighting the drug trade were subsequently cancelled by the Kamla-led UNC administration. An announcement made while Sailors from the TTCG were already in training on the vessels in Britain.
Three of those vessels – now with the Brazilian navy – had radar/sonar electronics, warfare armaments and interceptors, and onboard helipads.
Her own national security adviser and former national security minister at the time, Gary Griffith, admitted later that cancelling those OPVs was a big mistake.
When an OPV is out at sea, those committing illegal acts don’t know where our naval personnel are, thus there would have been a greater chance of stopping and ceasing illegal items before they have landed here.
The electronics on board the OPVs would have been able to “see” day and night. The chopper could have been launched at sea and followed suspicious vessels from the air and would have communicated with its base interceptors, again ensuring a greater chance of intercepting contraband.
The Damen Stan vessels didn’t have those capabilities and would have cost an arm and a leg to have them installed, if at all possible.
The OPVs would have been of much great assistance for search and rescue emergencies in natural disasters. For instance, when Dominica needed assistance after the hurricane, six-eight 20-foot shipping containers with supplies – food, water, medicals, emergency materials etc – as well as additional personnel (military and civilian) could have been placed on board the OPVs’ decks (they have their own cranes) instead of using a helicopter to carry six-eight large garbage bags of supplies, about four-five kilogrammes at best.
Again, something unachievable with the Damen Stans.
A horrible decision was made by the UNC led administration in cancelling those OPVs. Kamla did not care about our security nor sovereignty back then and presented herself as being a stranger to the truth. The Brazilians benefitted and are still benefitting. We lost and are still losing lives daily. Just think about how many guns would not have been able to enter T&T had those OPVs not been cancelled? How many lives could have been saved from gun-related violence?
Now more than ever, there are more drugs in our society, more guns on the streets and more violence.