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Griffith on patrol vessel from China: T&T will not buy ‘white elephant’

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar inspects the Guard of Honour comprising members of the Chinese Military Band inside the Great Hall of the People yesterday. Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister.

The intended acquisition of a long-range patrol vessel (LRV) from China is part of this country’s maritime protection strategy. But T&T has no intention of entering into an agreement if taxpayers have to shell out millions for a “white elephant”. Making the statement yesterday was National Security Minister Gary Griffith who spoke at a press conference at the ministry, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain.



A press release issued from the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday quoted the PM as saying China had promised to deliver a long-range vessel to the T&T Coast Guard in the shortest possible time. She said the Coast Guard needed two vessels to lock down T&T’s borders in light of the increase in arms and narco-trafficking. Persad-Bissessar led a T&T delegation to bilateral talks with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top officials of the Chinese Government at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday. 


The T&T delegation also included Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran, Minister of Trade and Industry Vasant Bharath and Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs Kevin Ramnarine. The Prime Minister said she was aware China was building two LRVs and “pleaded with Li Keqiang to sell one in the shortest possible time," the release said. 



It added that Persad-Bissessar also sought the assistance from the Chinese to establish a National Operations Centre (NOC), saying a Chinese company was already interested in such a project. Griffith said T&T had a maritime security plan which was not just a matter of “throwing assets.”


He said: “The assets being put in would be of very little value unless you have intelligence. You could put 100 OPVs (offshore patrol vessels) around the shoreline and it would be of no value if you don’t have intelligence to pinpoint where our borders are being infiltrated . 
“That is why I have re-energised the security co-operation agreement between Venezuela and Colombia and that is going to provide us with critical information for interception.” 


He said the concept of a maritime security wall also involved the acquisition of possible hovercraft, interceptors and floating coastal platforms among other things, which would work in tandem with intelligence-gathering. “The long-range patrol vessel is something that is important but that is more to secure our exclusive economic zone which would be at the north and the east coast from 12 to 200 miles north and east of T&T.


"But what we are doing is to ensure that if and when we do purchase such a vessel, we do not end up with what we almost got when we had purchased the BAE OVP... it was littered with irregularities and I have no intention to sit here and let the taxpayers get something (out of which) they don’t get value for money,” Griffith added. He said the purchase of any vessel would not be done via any politician but through consultation with law-enforcement officials and experts.


“We do have a naval implementation team and they have actually looked at the vessel. They have looked at vessels from Korea as well and with their report they will actually give us the concept of what they see as the best type of vessel for us to move forward with,” Griffith said. Before a decision could be finalised, the National Security Minister said, other details must be taken into consideration, including finance and maintenance.


“It would be difficult for me to make a statement until we get this information when the Prime Minister returns but I have no intention to purchase white elephants,” Griffith reiterated.



PM’s agenda

In her discussions Persad-Bissessar sought assistance with:
• Construction and design of six new economic zones in T&T.
• Development of a trans-shipment port and dry dock in south Trinidad.
• Early processing of a loan agreement with the China Exim Bank so these projects can be expedited.
• Construction of two new hospitals.
• Removal of asphalt from the Pitch Lake in greater quantities.


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