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Griffith eyes OPV for Coast Guard
Three years ago the Government cancelled an order for three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) but now National Security Minister Gary Griffith says one is needed. Government received a settlement of $1.382 billion from BAE Systems in 2012 after the order was cancelled. In an interview yesterday, Griffith said he was working with the Coast Guard and other stakeholders to acquire one of the vessels.
“I am liaising with relevant experts and Air Guard personnel pertaining to naval assets and a team involved in naval architecture and seniors in the Defence Force,” he said. Griffith said 200 sailors were needed to man one of the vessels but the country didn’t have sailors at the time the OPVs were ordered. “We did not want it to turn into a white elephant.
“We didn’t need three, we only needed one. You don’t spend $1,000 million for a vessel for deep waters for the Gulf of Paria. Ordinary people don’t know difference between the OPVs and an interceptor,” he said. He said the ministry has looked at vessels in Korea, Columbia, China, Holland and Israel. “You have to look at the type of water and terrain. The cost is $400 million,” he said. Another issue that was brought into question by Griffith was the acquisition of four AgustaWestland helicopters.
He said the country had paid $2,400 million although the basic market price was less than $100 million. “It makes no sense to point fingers and I have no intention to blame anyone. We still have them and they have many shortcomings. We got it at six times the market price and an auditing will be done shortly but it is not a witch-hunting process. “We need to buy the correct type to have proper surveillance,” he said.
Referring to the rise in crime and calls to revive the Flying Squad, he said, “Definitely not, I have no desire to bring back people in 60s and 70s. There is a different array of technology, statistics, 30 years of law...strategy.” A highly trained task force with similarities to the US Navy Seals, who are prepared for hostage situations and terrorist activity, was needed, Griffith said. He said it should not be seen as a unit competing with the police, as was the former Special Anti-Crime Unit.
In 2009, T&T signed a contract to buy four helicopters from AgustaWestland. These helicopters were to be used for search and rescue, surface surveillance, law enforcement, drug interdiction and disaster relief operations. The contract also included training and logistical support service for five years. The contract, comprising the aircraft and support package, was valued at US$348 million, according to AgustaWestland’s Web site.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Minister of National Security John Sandy commissioned the new helicopters at the Air Guard, Piarco Air Station, North Bank Road, Piarco on June 9, 2011.