ROYAL Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Raymond King.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
COMMODORE Raymond King says migrant apprehensions in The Bahamas increased by 456 percent in 2021 when compared with the previous year, while revealing that the Royal Bahamas Defence Force is faced with “people smugglers” who have resorted to more advanced tactics to evade authorities.
The Commodore said RBDF intelligence has uncovered new trends in the way migrants move, using American sailing vessels to conceal themselves.
Other statistics provided by Commodore King included a marked increase by the RBDF in boarding vessels. There was an increase of 1,000 percent of boardings in a bid to uncover undeclared illegal weapons, ammunition and drugs.
However, there was a 55 percent decline in catching illegal poachers.
He said the high occurrence of apprehensions in 2021 is most likely tied to the influx of Haitian migrants who were seen in Inagua in late September and onward.
“Our migrant apprehensions would have increased by some 456 percent year over (year) in comparison,” Commodore King said during the Office of the Prime Minister’s weekly press briefing. “Of course, the migrant movement during the month of September would have attributed to much of that.
“With respect to poaching (there was) a decline of some 55 percent, but this is due in (part) to our strong deterrent effect on placing vessels by targeting our patrols in specific areas at certain times of the year with persistent and overlapping patrols.
“This is evident in the response from the fishing community who’ve said repeatedly the last two years would have been the best years they’ve experienced. Their traps weren’t tampered with, the yield was higher and sightings were little or none.
“Our vessel boardings would have increased by some 1,000 percent in a deliberate exercise as we seek to uncover undeclared and illegal weapons and ammunition and drugs on board vessels that we were boarding.”
He continued: “Our strategy is focused on being able to intercept those migrant vessels in particular in the southern Bahamas.
“However, there’s a new trend with the migration movement. New tactics - evasive and concealment tactics - being used to evade smuggling activities. They’re now using American sailing vessels to conceal their movement as opposed to the traditional Haitian sailing sloops.
“The traditional Haitian sailing vessels are now being equipped with outboard engines to quicken their transit northbound into The Bahamas.
“Additionally what we’re experiencing now is we have multiple vessels leaving from multiple ports in Haiti with multiple destinations in mind and so it requires us to prioritise which target of interest based on the availability of our assets to intercept solely as an organisation or leveraging the assistance from the United States Coast Guard and finally our local law enforcement agents once we would have detected the vessels and handed over the information to them.”
He said the target was now not only New Providence, but other islands in the archipelago.
“They are now targeting not only New Providence, but Abaco, Eleuthera and Andros and on many occasions, they would move along the Old Bahama Channel (and) give you the impression that they’re heading toward the United States of America and once they reach south of Andros, they would turn northbound.
“So, we’re being forced to spread our resources from east to west and south in response to the new trends.
“Thus far we’ve done extremely well, but it’s not without the collaboration and coordination with our regional partners in particular OPBAT, the United States Coast Guard, Cuban Border Patrol, in providing useful meaningful intelligence as well as the police Marine Unit (and) customs and immigration who respond when we provide intelligence locally so they can ensure they intercept in the event our vessels are not available to do so,” Commodore King said.