St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, is expressing concern with the marine traffic between the island and St. Lucia, where there is a spike in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.
St. Lucia has recorded 238 positive cases of the virus and two deaths, with most of the cases coming over the past few weeks.
Gonsalves, speaking on the state-owned NBC Radio, said that he has already spoken to the head of the Coast Guard, Commander Cain, regarding the situation, adding “we have to be very careful with the boats which go between St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, particularly in the northeast and the northwest of our country.
“Now, the Coast Guard has been doing a lot of patrols, I am not going to give you the details as to where they are patrolling but I want to say that they are patrolling very much on the northeast and the northwest but also on the south,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security.
He said that to the south of the island, the Coast Guard is “not only for the purpose of looking at the boats which may move between countries concerning COVID but other kind of activities…including trying to cover enough territory to dissuade any set of bandit coming out of South America, be they Venezuela, Colombia or anywhere else for that matter”.
Gonsalves was making an apparent reference to the November 12 report that local fishermen were robbed at gunpoint 65 nautical miles southeast of Kingstown by Spanish-speaking pirates who threatened to take them to Venezuela and demand a ransom.
The prime minister said that Vincentians must bear in mind, though, that the country has about 11,000 nautical square miles of seascape.
“So it is a wide and expansive area but in addition to that, we work through the Regional Security System and the overflights by the C26 aircraft that they provide additional information in helping us in protecting our borders,” he said, noting that the island’s borders extend to its exclusive economic zone and the extent of the seascape under its jurisdiction.
He said that the Capt. Hugh Mulzac, the largest vessel in the Vincentian Coast Guard fleet, would be doing a four-day operation until Saturday.
“So what happens is this, you will have the Mulzac, we will go from the south and they go up to the northeast and the northwest. But when they’re coming back down, other vessels overlap and do — even when they are going up, other vessels come and do periodic runs at different times of the day.
“Again, I am not saying at what times of the day. And we coordinate with St. Lucia, we coordinate with Grenada, we coordinate with Barbados; our Coast Guard with those countries individually and with the Regional Security System.
“I just want to give that assurance to the public but I put the caveat that it’s a lot of seascape to cover, as I say, about 11,000 nautical square miles or thereabout. It’s a huge area,” Gonsalves said, reiterating that the size of the island’s seascape is important.
“This is of importance because even though we have the restrictions on our borders, our ports of entry, whether it’s for the vessel or for the aircraft, there is this kind of informal and even illegal trafficking.
“Sometimes, you have family on both sides and they go between here and St. Lucia, for instance, on the northeast and the northwest of St. Vincent. We also have to be careful with the fisher folk, particularly those who will catch the fish and transfer it at sea or interact with fishermen from other places,” Gonsalves said, adding “so all of that involving the border security is part and parcel of the fight against COVID”.
He told radio listeners that he believes “people understand and appreciate better why it was important from a structural standpoint that we determine very early that we put it (COVID-19 management) under NEMO (National Emergency Management Organisation), though run by the Health Services Committee, but that involved other entities other than Health, because it involves, for instance, the Ministry of National Security”.