Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that St. Vincent and the Grenadines had to be very careful with marine traffic between his country and St. Lucia, where there is a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“I was, this morning, speaking to the head of the Coast Guard, Commander Cain because I’d raised this issue before but, as always, in a leadership role, I have to reinforce, and other points of authority have had to communicate with the Cast Guard and the Coast Guard realise it on their own that with the spike, for example, in St. Lucia, we have to be very careful with the boats which go between St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, particularly in the northeast and the northwest of our country,” Gonsalves said on NBC Radio on Wednesday.
He said he was speaking specifically about traffic between St. Lucia and north of the Dry River all the way to Fancy and, on the northwest, Chateaubelair, Fitz Hughes, Richmond, and further north.
“Now, the Coast Guard has been doing a lot of patrols, I am not going to give you the details as to where they are patrolling but I want to say that they are patrolling very much on the northeast and the northwest but also on the south,” said Gonsalves, who is also Ministry of National Security.
He said that to the south of SVG, the Coast Guard is “not only for the purpose of looking at the boats which may move between countries concerning COVID but other kind of activities — and will come to that — including trying to cover enough territory to dissuade any set of bandit coming out of South America, be they Venezuela, Colombia or anywhere else for that matter”.
The prime minister was speaking in apparent reference to the Nov. 12 report by two Vincentians fishermen that they were robbed at gunpoint 65 nautical miles southeast of Kingstown by Spanish-speaking pirates who threatened to take them to Venezuela and demand a ransom.
The prime minister said that Vincentians must bear in mind, though, that the country has about 11,000 nautical square miles of seascape.
“So it is a wide and expansive area but in addition to that, we work through the Regional Security System and the over flights by the C26 aircraft that they provide additional information in helping us in protecting our borders,” he said.
The prime minister noted that the nation’s borders extend to its exclusive economic zone and the extent of the seascape under its jurisdiction”.
He said that the Capt. Hugh Mulzac, the largest vessel in the Vincentian Coast Guard fleet, would be doing a four-day operation between Wednesday and Saturday.
“So what happens is this, you will have the Mulzac, we will go from the south and they go up to the northeast and the northwest. But when they’re coming back down, other vessels overlap and do — even when they are going up, other vessels come and do periodic runs at different times of the day.
“Again, I am not saying at what times of the day. And we coordinate with St. Lucia, we coordinate with Grenada, we coordinate with Barbados; our Coast Guard with those countries individually and with the Regional Security System.
I just want to give that assurance to the public but I put the caveat that it’s a lot of seascape to cover, as I say, about 11,000 nautical square miles or thereabout. It’s a huge area.”
Gonsalves said that noting the size of the nation’s seascape is important.
“This is of importance because even though we have the restrictions on our borders, our ports of entry, whether it’s for the vessel or for the aircraft, there is this kind of informal and even illegal trafficking.
“Sometimes, you have family on both sides and they go between here and St. Lucia, for instance, on the northeast and the northwest of St. Vincent.
“We also have to be careful with the fisher folk, particularly those who will catch the fish and transfer it at sea or interact with fishermen from other places,” the prime minister said.
“So all of that involving the border security is part and parcel of the fight against COVID,” he told listeners.
“And I think people understand and appreciate better why it was important from a structural standpoint that we determine very early that we put it (COVID-19 management) under NEMO (National Emergency Management Organisation), though run by the Health Services Committee, but that involved other entities other than Health, because it involves, for instance, the Ministry of National Security,” he said, adding that NEMO falls under that ministry.