By Kadeem Joseph
With only two working sea vessels currently operational, the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) Coast Guard continues to work towards getting a plane airborne as a means of boosting its surveillance capabilities.
The aircraft was originally planned to transport people between Barbuda and the mainland.
Chief of Defence Staff Colonel Telbert Benjamin explained that at present another of its vessels, which was decommissioned, will be sunk in the hopes of it becoming an artificial reef.
He explained that the two vessels that remain functional also have their limitations since they are “shore patrol vessels”.
“They are designed to patrolling around the immediate area of Antigua and Barbuda, so our capability from a Coast Guard standpoint is very limited to our in-shore,” Colonel Benjamin added.
He explained that the ABDF recently presented a Maritime Domain Awareness Plan that identifies what the Coast Guard needs in order to patrol the country’s waters, conduct search and rescue operations, and effectively support the entities they are mandated to under law.
With respect to the aircraft, he said the ABDF recently completed the “retrofitting and repairs”, while the human resource department continues to source the requisite personnel required for the general operation of the craft.
“We are in the process now of completing the insuring of the aircraft, and training of the personnel to fly that aircraft is ongoing as we speak,” he said. “So that aircraft will come into play as a critical ingredient in supporting our surveillance … and allow us, not only to look at our own waters, but also to support the regional efforts to support that domain awareness.”
Colonel Benjamin noted, however, that notwithstanding these efforts, equipment for the maritime environment vessels is expensive to purchase and maintain, coupled with the cost of the training of personnel.
He explained that the ABDF endeavours to build capacity towards becoming more efficient and continues to lean on partners for support and advice.
This is the latest update in the long-awaited arrival of the Barbuda Air service that was first promised in 2015.
Speaking during a sitting of Parliament in June, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that the aircraft would be used for Coast Guard surveillance as well as transporting passengers between the twin islands.
He also noted that the countries of the region have “relatively porous borders”, and while Antigua and Barbuda has been assisted by the US government and other external agencies, surveillance remains a challenge for the region, the twin island state included.
The security of the nation’s borders had also come under scrutiny after the alleged abduction of diamond dealer and Antiguan and Barbudan citizen, Mehul Choksi, presumably via boat in May.