By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE prudence of the government's decision to acquire nine Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBPF) vessels at a cost of $232 million can be seen in the results that are being reaped, Prime Minister Perry Christie said on Friday.
He spoke during a commissioning ceremony for the latest addition to the fleet, HMBS Kamalamee.
"As God would have it, the decision to expand our capacity to protect the waters of the Bahamas has enabled the Defence Force to now be seen to be doing great works in furtherance of protecting our country," he said.
"The evidence of that can be gleaned from fishermen who are now indicating openly that this is the best season they've had in 30 years and that, just recently, a colleague of mine told me that his father, who is a Spanish Wells fishermen, went out and in three hours secured 300lbs of crawfish and they're saying that was normally a full day and a half worth of work.
"The evidence is before us to now be able to see the wisdom and benefit of expanding the capacity of the Defence Force - and not just the capacity to do so. But clearly there is an apprehension by way of a deterrence taking place by people who have made a living of poaching in our waters."
Mr Christie spoke of a recent incident in which Defence Force officers apprehended two Dominican boats full of passengers who were poaching in the area of the Great Bahama Bank.
The vessel involved was the HMBS Madeira, whose hull was damaged when a Dominican vessel with poachers attempting to escape rammed her.
Efforts are underway to renovate the HMBS Madeira. When completed, all nine ships the government acquired by the government will be in the possession of the Defence Force, completing a key stage of the Sandy Bottom Project, which is an effort to modernise the Defence Force's capacity and capabilities.
"Madeira was successful in apprehending two Dominican vessels last year November," Mr Christie recounted. "In a failed attempt to escape, one of the poaching vessels rammed the Madeira, damaging her hull. Arrangements for her repairs are now in their final stage.
"Traditionally we have had this great challenge to our country of poaching and we have attempted through diplomacy to minimise and even prevent the level of poaching from government to government interactions - the government of the Bahamas and the government of the Dominican Republic."
"The poachers were arrested, the official resources were confiscated. They are still in custody at the Department of Corrections where they are awaiting the completion of their cases and I'm led to understand that the court resumes as early as Monday next."
Mr Christie's praise for the Defence Force's efforts to clamp down on poaching echoes that of Acting Commodore Captain Tellis Bethel, who told The Tribune last year the force's customers think the law enforcement institution is doing a better job.
"The Bahamian clientele, the local fishermen, they have been reporting huge catches on the Bahama Bank such as they have never seen over the last ten, some say 20 years," he said. "There is some evidence that as a result of the Defence Force conducting its patrols with the recent acquisition of its patrol crafts, we are beginning to roll back the Dominican poachers.
"Years ago they were able to fish at will but now, because of the presence of the Defence Force, they really have to exercise caution when they do what they do. We are in a position where we are able to respond quickly, whether during a regular patrol or responding to a report by fishermen.
“Our success owes to greater resources. The acquisition programme under the government’s approved Sandy Bottom Project entails acquisition of nine patrol crafts. All nine have been constructed and delivered. The latest capture involved the most recent delivery of patrol craft, the Her Majesty’s Bahamian Ship Madeira.”