By JANELLE DE SOUZA Saturday, January 25 2014
A PLAN by Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz to virtually lockdown all ports and marinas in the country to halt smuggling of contraband, has been greeted with support from several yachtsmen interviewed yesterday in west Trinidad.
Tighter security and tracking of vessels — part of Cadiz’s plans — have been welcomed by the yachtsmen who expressed concern about staffing and other resources to make these security plans feasible.
Cadiz on Thursday announced plans to improve security with the use of scanners and sniffer dogs at all ports and marinas in response to the $640 million cocaine drug bust in the United States where the drugs were shipped from Trinidad.
Cadiz said the Maritime Services Division will be “beefed up” so all activity in local waters, involving all vessels including pleasure crafts, would be subject to greater monitoring. “We are actively pursuing that area. It’s called the Vessel Management Tracking System which will be installed in Trinidad to be able to manage our seas better, especially the Gulf of Paria,” said Cadiz.
A local boater told Newsday, “I don’t think Government is thinking of placing individual monitors on every boat. Instead, systems need to be put in place at a maritime level. Maritime needs to get more involved, maybe even register vessels that are already registered abroad,” the boater said.
He also believes any new system would be a good opportunity to reintroduce the Marine Police Unit in order to assist the Maritime Services Division and Coast Guard, especially as the Marine Police would have powers of arrest.
However, he pointed out there was a difference between pleasure and leisure crafts. He explained that pleasure crafts were usually used by locals who sail “down-the-islands” or go fishing. Leisure crafts, such as yachts, are used by locals and foreigners to sail to other Caribbean countries and to sail in international waters.
Simon Hardy, Chief Operating Officer at Crews Inn noted there were many vessels in the water which could lead to those monitoring the system to “miss the people they should be catching.”
Hardy said because of the number of vessels in the water, those responsible for the system may have a problem managing and monitoring the system and coordinat the dispatching of the Coast Guard.
He suggested an automated tracking system which would identifying suspicious vessel activity. The Coast Guard could be alerted and dispatched, on a timely basis, to investigate and, if necessary, search the vessel with a police dog.
However, he was concerned about the possible “antagonistic attitude” of officers, saying that the country had a “bad reputation” because of some immigration and customs officials. “Another important point would be not unnecessarily harassing normal, law-abiding people. They bring a lot of money and business to Trinidad, creating jobs. If we scare them away by an overly aggressive bureaucratic system, then they will stop coming,” he added.
Management officials of the TT Yacht Club seemed unconcerned by the proposed security measures. “If tracking and other security measures are necessary, then we would welcome it. We have nothing to hide. The Minister (Cadiz) has to get the manpower to enforce it first though. But it’s those derelict vessels out there in the Gulf (of Paria), those are the areas they should monitor for movement. That is the big source of contention,” an official said.