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Army chief responds to New York Times story: No drug-trafficking subs in T&T waters
Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Kenrick Maharaj says there is no evidence that cocaine-filled submarines and semi-submersible craft are operating in T&T’s waters. He gave the assurance after San Fernando business owners asked why the Government was purchasing high-speed interceptor boats to chase drug dealers, when Colombian cartels were using submarines to transport drugs from Latin America to the United States.
A story published on September 9 in the New York Times said American authorities had discovered at least three models of a new and sophisticated drug-trafficking submarine capable of travelling completely underwater from South America to the coast of the United States via the Caribbean Sea.
Speaking at a crime consultation organised by the San Fernando Business Association at City Hall on Tuesday night, National Security Minister Jack Warner admitted that T&T’s maritime borders were “the most porous in the world.” He revealed only 29 ports out of 119 ports in Trinidad were protected.
“We have to build a maritime wall around the country,” he said. “There are certain areas in our country where guns are coming in, and they are coming in droves from the south in particular. Police could stop as many gangsters on the street, [but] unless we find the means to address the guns and drugs, we would have failed in the crime fight,” Warner said.
He also claimed the offshore patrol vessels ordered by former prime minister Patrick Manning would have been ineffective in maritime patrols. “The OPV’s would not have protected your borders. The OPVs’ firing mechanism was ineffective for over one year. It couldn’t be fixed. If it was ineffective before they send it down here, what would have happened when it reached here?” Warner said.
He also said the OPVs would have cost the Government $32 million annually to maintain. “We need small interceptors that could go at a fast rate and run down these drug runners. You also need a good radar system that could pick up anything in the sea for 50 miles,” Warner said.
When asked by president of the association Daphne Bartlett when the maritime radars and patrols would be implemented, Warner responded: “Give me six months.” Asked by Bartlett whether the interceptor boats made sense because of the submarines, Warner passed the question to Maharaj, who admitted that submarines had been the subject of overall regional security discussions.
However, Maharaj said, “There is at this time, no evidence or intelligence to support the presence or threat of unmanned submarines in our maritime space.” He noted that T&T had 362 kilometres of coastline and hundreds of vulnerable points. Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson said the submarine talk was fuelled by recent breakthroughs in illegal diesel-bunkering.
“What has fuelled this talk of unmanned submarine is the bunkering. People are making a connection that because there is fuel-bunkering, they are taking it to use it to transport drugs. That is the theory outside there, but there is no real evidence to suggest that we have any submarine doing that kind of activity in T&T,” Richardson said.
Last week, three men were arrested in Claxton Bay after police unearthed a diesel-bunkering racket and seized $.6 million worth of fuel. Richardson urged citizens to share intelligence with the police and army, vowing that all tips would be acted upon promptly.
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