By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) held the largest commissioning ceremony in the service’s history on Friday at the John Alfred Wharf, bolstering its fleet with three new vessels and a 17-piece containerised mobile base as it upgrades its fleet to safeguard the Bahamas.
The 187-foot, multifunctional cargo carrier, HMBS Lawrence Major, along with two 98-foot patrol vessels, HMBS Lignum Vitae and HMBS Cascarilla, joined the HMBS Arthur Dion Hanna, the HMBS Durward Knowles, the HMBS Leon Smith and the HMBS Rolly Gray as seven of the nine ships that will comprise the service’s modern fleet.
The HMBS Lawrence Major was named in honour of the late Lawrence Whitfield Major, a lifelong seaman turned maritime law enforcement officer. Mr Major joined the Royal Bahamas Police Force in 1950 and became a well-respected public servant, eventually taking charge of the newly formed Police Marine Division in 1971, which later became the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
During his time with the unit and later the force, Mr Major instilled a strong work ethic in the service. That concept was fittingly adopted as HMBS Lawrence Major’s motto is “Semper Promptitudine Serviendi” - which translates as “Always Ready to Serve”.
In 1962 Mr Major received the Queen’s Commendation for brave conduct. Ten years later he received the Colonial Police Medal for Meritorious Service, in 1977 the Police Medal for Distinguished Service and in 1979 was made a Member of the British Empire.
The HMBS Lawrence Major is a licensed version of the DAMEN Stan Lander 5612 - an auxiliary transport, roll on-roll off vessel - built to Bureau Veritas classification in 2015.
A forward ramp enables rapid loading and unloading of rolling deck cargo. The vessel also boasts comfortable living accommodation for her crew and embarked forces and an isolated medical room at deck level which provides the capacity to address medical issues efficiently and effectively.
The 17-piece mobile base allows the RBDF to erect a mobile kitchen capable of producing 250 meals per day, a 40-foot mobile medical unit, a 20-foot dry towage container, a water treatment plan, water tanks, a 20-foot workshop for marines, two generators and other amenities.
RBDF officials said the idea for a mobile platform from which emergency management could take place is new to the Bahamas and is an added feature that can best benefit a service for an archipelagic nation.
At Friday’s ceremony Prime Minister Perry Christie explained the need for the modern fleet, stressing that the island make up of the Bahamas and the evident advancement in illegal migration, drug and human trafficking, has been pressing the government for some time to make such a move.
Mr Christie said the demand for ships to equip the Defence Force has increased, with the need to permanently deploy marines, officers, ships, aircraft and other essential resources at strategic locations throughout the Bahamas.
“This investment, the largest capital outlay of its kind in the history of the Bahamas, was necessary in light of the myriad of threats confronting our nation,” he said, adding that these threats are compounded by an ageing fleet, a shortage of personnel and limited bases - all justifications for the government’s $232m Sandy Bottom Project.
“I can say publicly that the government of the Bahamas has committed to seeing this change through to completion by providing the required resources and platform from which this small but effective force can execute their duty. So it is for me to herald in the Bahamas that today I therefore mark another milestone in the unfolding of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.”
Mr Christie lauded the commissioning of the three vessels on Friday as a testament to his government’s commitment to invest heavily in the safety and security of the nation.
The Sandy Bottom Project was announced in mid-2014 after the government tabled a resolution to borrow $232 million to purchase nine new Defence Force vessels. The loan with Deutsche Bank facilitated $149 million to build each of the ships and an additional $75 million to cover civil works for a total of $224 million. The remaining $8 million accommodated any changes that might have arisen during the scope of the project.