By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
DIGNITARIES officially opened a new $20 million Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) aircraft hangar at Great Inagua yesterday.
OPBAT, a collaboration between the US Coast Guard, Bahamian law enforcement and officials in the Turks and Caicos islands, has been a major factor in the fight against illicit drug smuggling through the Bahamas to the US and other parts of the world.
Built to replace a previous edifice that was severely damaged in 2008 by hurricane Ike, the new hangar is expected to withstand high force winds. It has 17,500 square feet of floor space and took around two years to build.
Speaking at the opening, Prime Minister Perry Christie told those gathered that the new hanger will enable officials to be more efficient in their fight to thwart illegal activity.
Mr Christie said: “Pilots and crew will all be in one location and will be able to increase their overall efficiency and decrease response times for the benefit of the three partner states.
“The development of the hangar over the last five years has greatly mirrored relations between our three countries, particularly Bahamian-American bilateral relations.”
US Charg� d’affaires John Dinkleman emphasised the importance of the hangar in modern day trafficking operations.
He said: “In the last six months alone, our joint efforts have netted more than three tons of marijuana, 500 pounds of cocaine, and several hundred thousand dollars in cash.
“Successes such as these thwart what had been an easy access route, keeps drugs off our streets, and increases the cost of doing business for drug smugglers and traffickers.”
Since 1983 when OPBAT was established, the operation has reduced the cocaine flow through the country from 80 per cent to 10 per cent.
Also in attendance at the opening were Special Agent in charge of the Miami Field Division Mark Trouville, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, the Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage, Minister of Aviation and Transport Glenys Hanna-Martin, State Aviation, Transport Minister Hope Stratchan, Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray and other US Coast Guard officials.