The increasing influx of drugs, guns and human cargo from South America to TT has prompted the Coast Guard to rethink its strategy and make the most of resources in an attempt to protect our maritime borders.
Despite experiencing some successes with over 900 kilograms of drugs and 400 migrants being intercepted for the year thus far, members of the Coast Guard are still challenged by poor visibility, dangerous weather conditions, changing patterns of smugglers and the sheer size of the waters to be patrolled. Speaking with reporters on the deck of Coast Guard
vessel the TTS Quinam on Wednesday, acting Cmdr Don Polo said while the influx of Venezuelan migrants has not increased significantly since the end of registration earlier this year, there are still concerns over TT’s porous borders.
“About 443 migrants were handed over to immigration for processing, but before that we would have turned back several vessels in the immediate aftermath of registration (of Venezuelans), in August.
“Because of the size of the area we need to be patrolling, you won’t find any vessels staying in one particular area for too long.
Polo said the coast guard has tried to place vessels strategically in certain areas that may be prone to greater influx of migrants and contraband than others.
The problems with this plan is keeping track of the movements of smugglers that constantly change their movements and which often operate in pairs.
“The boats used by the smugglers are also the boats used by our fishermen. It’s the same kind of pirogue, so we need to be extra vigilant of what kind of boats we see out here (at sea).
“Also there is the challenge of multiple boats. If we detect more than one boat, we will have to try and go after one depending on how fast that boat may be travelling and how close it may be to Trinidad.”
This challenge speaks to biggest problems facing the Coast Guard which is the large portion of TT’s waters that may be unpatrolled at any given time.
Polo said while the Coast Guard maintains close contact with the police to intercept any migrants or cargo that may slip between patrols, it is a difficult task especially at night when visibility is low.
He also said the Coast Guard was undergoing a restructuring exercise which was expected to increase its manpower and presence on the seas. He thanked National Security Minister Stuart Young for assisting with this exercise.
But Polo said the restructuring would be a long-term solution and the Coast Guard would have to find alternative means of stretching its
The Coast Guard performs roughly 2000 patrols per year. For this year alone coast guard officers have dealt with smugglers and migrants and helped fishermen in need in 576 incidents.
In one incident last year, he said, an Egyptian man was held by a coast guard vessel on patrol, trying to enter Trinidad.
“Ask yourself, what business does an Egyptian have coming to Trinidad via Venezuela?
“Over a period of time we have seen Nigerians, Chinese and so on coming via Venezuela. There are a lot of international airlines that use Caracas, but these are things were would not have expected to see.”
In addition to the regular items of drugs, guns and migrants, Polo also said the Coast Guard has been noticing increasing trends of food items like meats and cheeses being smuggled in pirogues. He said these items not only pose a threat to TT’s agriculture industry but pose a potential health risk to local consumers.