Our coastguard should be urgently upgraded
Stabroek News
March 3, 2004

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Dear Editor,

I would like to extend congratulations to the Government on showing exemplary leadership in an area of extreme national importance by taking decisive action to resolve the dispute over our eastern maritime boundary with Suriname. Now if only such decisiveness could be extended to issues such as the 'phantom affair', the drug trade etc, etc....

But wish lists aside, I would again like to urge the Government to consolidate its prudent position on our territorial boundaries by augmenting our defensive capabilities in our maritime sector.

Our Coast Guard at present is woefully undermanned and under equipped to discharge its mandate.

At present the Coast Guard has a strength of no more than 300 men and women.

They man one Offshore Patrol Vessel and four Motor Life Boats which are of limited effectiveness in patrolling our Extended Economic Zone (EEZ). That EEZ measures approximately 52,000 sq miles.

Even the most uninitiated in the rudimentary principles of maritime asset management will immediately appreciate the ineffectiveness of our Coast Guard. This is not a direct criticism of their efforts, but an acknowledgement of the magnitude of their task.

Before anything else is said on this matter, I am fully aware of the multitude of other pressing needs that the Government must tend to, be it in the Housing, Education or the Health sector. There will almost certainly be a knee jerk reaction by those that control the purse strings of 'surely there are areas more needy!'

But this is a crucial time. Those in the know must surely be ruing the day we let our defences slip. The CGX website(www.cgxenergy.ca/ corentyneLicence.html) estimates that the Eagle drill target in the area of dispute contains 800 million barrels of oil. 800 million! That works out to 24 billion US dollars, if we take the average price of oil as US$30 a barrel.

All this (or at least our contractual share) was snatched away from us by a Government that was supposedly our fraternal brother, using a gunboat worth no more than US$1M. And what could we do? What could we muster? Nothing.

Belatedly the GDFS Essequibo was purchased from the UK at a cost of approximately US$2M.

But the horse had already bolted, and all our efforts to shut the barn door (median line patrols with the aforementioned vessel etc) have come to naught.

It must be acknowledged that hindsight gives 20/20 vision, but even with the knowledge of how disingenuous our neighbours to the east would be, does anyone think that they would have attempted to get away with such blatant illegality if our Coast Guard had been favourably disposed in the category of surface assets? I must refer to Trinidad and Tobago (again) as a model for the GDF Coast Guard.

Had we a force and asset structure similar to what they have now in June of 2000, I put it to you that Guyanese would have been enjoying the fruits of our patrimony right now.

So what should Guyana aim for, in order to protect our maritime assets? In my opinion the desired outcome would be surprisingly cost effective to achieve. The Coast Guard needs 4 OPV's and two maritime patrol aircraft to adequately cover our EEZ. Right now we possess one OPV and zero maritime patrol assets.

As a stop gap measure the GDF Y 12 multipurpose aircraft can be refitted with a surface search radar and electroptic detection systems for about US$500, 000.

The three other OPV's suitably equipped should cost no more than US$3M each. These should be acquired over a five year period and if possible should be of the same type/make.

Is this scenario possible? I would be the first to concede that it may be unlikely, but the last to say that it wasn't the prudent thing to do under the circumstances.

Guyana needs to safeguard what is her's, to let our best hope for prosperity slip through our hands (again) would surely be penny wise and pound foolish.

Yours faithfully,

Aubrey Williams