By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Dominican Republic has launched its own investigation into the recent shootout between Royal Bahamas Defense Force marines and suspected Dominican poachers, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said yesterday.
Mr Mitchell was providing an update on his meetings with Dominican Republic government officials over Monday night’s incident. Mr Mitchell also said Dominican government officials were “quite apologetic” for the situation and have pledged to “do everything to get to the bottom of it.”
Mr Mitchell said he spoke with the Dominican foreign minister on the matter, who revealed that the suspected poachers in Monday’s incident had made their own report to the Dominican Republic’s navy and as a result an investigation has been launched by Dominican authorities. Mr Mitchell said the suspected poachers are from the Dominican Republic province of Puerto Plata.
Mr Mitchell told The Tribune that the Dominican investigation would not impede this country’s government from continuing its own probe and taking legal action on the matter.
In the meantime, Mr Mitchell said both governments have agreed to “work expeditiously” to officially settle protocols between both naval forces that would allow for a direct line of communication between the two entities should incidents like the one that occurred on Monday ever occur again.
Mr Mitchell was commenting on earlier revelations by National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage that RBDF marines were involved in a shootout and subsequent high-speed chase with suspected Dominican poachers in the Cay Lobos area on Monday night. The RBDF marines returned fire after being shot at with what RBDF senior officials told The Tribune were shotguns. No marines were hurt, nor were any of the vessels damaged during the encounter, according to Dr Nottage.
Dr Nottage had said that Mr Mitchell, who was in the Dominican Republic at the time of the incident in question, was to take the matter up with the Dominican government.
When asked how discussions with the Dominican authorities went on the matter, Mr Mitchell said yesterday: “A diplomatic note was sent to them. I had a discussion, brought the matter to the attention of the foreign minister. He spoke to the commandant of their navy straight away, because this involves a ship and personnel from Puerto Plata, which of course is in a different area from Santa Domingo.
“It turns out that the fishermen or the alleged poachers had made their own report to the Dominican navy, and as a result of that, the Dominican navy is in the process of doing their own investigation, which so the foreign minister said, also requires contacting our own Royal Bahamas Defence Force. And then the minister will report back to me what their findings are on that side.
“On the larger picture, there is a need for the protocols which had been settled between the two navies on points of contact to be officially settled and we’ve agreed to work expeditiously to make sure that that happens so that there can be direct contact instead of having to go through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when these sorts of things happen.”
When asked if he felt all was being done by the Dominican government to aid in mitigating against poaching in Bahamian waters, Mr Mitchell said: “What I would say from their side is that on a governmental level, there appears to be the goodwill to get this problem (poaching) resolved, but clearly there are commercial interests in the Dominican Republic that are not fitting in with that programme.”
Mr Mitchell added: “We in the Bahamas have the tools to enforce our laws. Regardless of what the Dominican Republic does on their side, it’s our responsibility to enforce our laws and to enforce them to the fullest. The Defence Force has the capability, has the equipment, has the manpower to do that, so the law is going to be enforced.
“The Bahamas does not want to be in a shooting war with anybody, least of all civilians on the high seas, but the Defence Force has a set of rules of engagement, and if they are met with force on the high seas they will respond with the appropriate force,” he added. “That’s what I understand the rules of engagement to be and I’m sure they are not hesitant whatsoever in using the appropriate force if force is what they meet on the high seas.”