After the startling drug bust at Westmoorings last week, state intelligence sources revealed that the drugs arrived in the country last Monday at an illegal port of entry behind a gas station in the West. So it was a short run from the drop point to the Westmoorings apartment for an estimated $15 million worth of marijuana and cocaine.
Officers estimated last week that there are currently 91 illegal ports of entry known to the security forces. There is no clear consensus on how many ports of entry constitute our vulnerabilities. In July, Prime Minister Keith Rowley told reporters that there were 140 illegal ports of entry in Trinidad and another 19 in Tobago. Security Minister Stuart Young has since put the number at 214.
Rowley’s count was a curtain-raiser for the purchase of two Cape Class vessels from Austal, the Australian ship yard that’s been playing an increasing role in delivering Coast Guard vessels. According to Young, of the 24-interceptor craft bought from Austal in 2009, only five remained operational, the result of the vessels being “left to deteriorate.” Fourteen of the vessels will be returned to service at a cost of $6 million.
Regrettably, the Coast Guard can point to few successful drug captures in return for these considerable investments in patrol resources. In February 2016, the Coast Guard, in a successful joint exercise with the US captured a vessel with 4.2 tons of cocaine aboard with an estimated value of $837 million off the coast of Suriname. Such hauls are the exception.
Compounding the existence of the drug trade is a growing flow of contraband between the south western coast of Trinidad and Venezuela, which are just 10 miles apart at their closest point. The stated position of the TT Government is that “there is no refugee crisis in TT,” as the National Security Minister told the Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce in November. Yet, a UK Guardian story last month pegged TT as the top Caribbean destination for almost half of the 80,000 Venezuelans who have left their home country for islands in the region. In January, Bloomberg reported on the rise of Venezuelan pirates, former fishermen who are now trafficking contraband between Icacos and Cedros, bringing refugees, guns, animals and cocaine and returning with US cash and diapers.
Our coastal border control challenges are considerable and cannot wait for new interdiction vessels for a proper naval response. A more robust response to the issues on our closest border with Venezuela is long overdue, as is the need for more inventive high-level thinking on how to better deploy our defence assets to improve coastal security.