Rear Admiral William D. Baumgartner Commander, 7th Coast Guard District and Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie unveil United States Coast Guard OPBAT plaque after the ceremony for the opening of the OPBAT Aircraft Hangar at the Inagua International Airport, Thursday, March 21, 2013. Also pictured from left: Special Agent in Charge Miami Field Division U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Mark Trouville; Representative, Leo A. Daly Company; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development the Hon. Philip Davis and Minister of National Security the Hon. Dr. Bernard Nottage. (BIS photo/Peter Ramsay)
GREAT INAGUA, Bahamas -- The
United States Coast Guard and Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos
Islands (OPBAT) play the
premier roles in drug interdiction in the air and
maritime spaces of The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Prime
Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie said.
During the ceremony for the opening of the OPBAT
Aircraft Hangar at the Inagua International Airport, Thursday, March
21, 2013, the Prime Minister said without OPBAT all of the countries
partnering would find it hard-pressed to detect and stem the illicit
flow of narcotics, firearms and trafficking of people through their
“This new facility, which replaces a hangar that
suffered extensive damage in 2008 during Hurricane Ike, will be fully
used by OPBAT law enforcement officers and reaffirms the solidarity
between what is called the Tri-part, the three partners in this crime
fighting initiative: the United States of America, the Turks and Caicos
Islands and The Bahamas.”
OPBAT is a multi-agency, international drug interdiction
effort that has the mission of stopping the flow of illegal drugs from
South America and the Caribbean to The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and
the U.S. OPBAT missions include law enforcement officials from
the U.S., The Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos who are responsible
for making arrests and seizures.
Prime Minister Christie explained that the hangar
with approximately 17,500 square feet of floor space, represents the
culmination of almost two years of work and approximately $30 million
in capital investment.
In addition, he said it was designed and constructed
to withstand the hurricane force winds, which frequently blow across
The Prime Minister said, “over the past 31 years,
OPBAT’s mandate has been expanded from working singularly toward the
elimination of illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs to combating all
the peripheral activities that threaten national and regional security.
“It is a great joy, therefore, to hear that the
data collection method employed by OPBAT has been revised to be more
reflective of trends, such that our joint counter-narcotics efforts
might be more targeted and effective.”
Prime Minister Christie said since Hurricane Ike
rendered the original facility operationally ineffective in 2008, the
Coast Guard operations have been split between Providenciales in the
Turks and Caicos Islands and in Great Inagua.
“Naturally, this situation has extended the amount
of time required to effectively mobilise our patrols and other time-sensitive
“However,” the Prime Minister said, “with the
completion of this new structure, aircraft, 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.”
Prime Minister Christie also noted that the development
of the hangar over the last five years has greatly mirrored relations
between the three partners, particularly Bahamian-American bilateral
“Cooperation in the field has become closer; transparency
in operations has increased; and overall effectiveness has become the
order of the day.”
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie (centre) is shown cutting the ribbon to the new OPBAT Aircraft Hangar at the Inagua International Airport, Thursday, March 21, 2013 with Rear Admiral William D. Baumgartner Commander, 7th Coast Guard District (left) and U.S. Chargé d’Affaires John Dinkelman (right). Also shown from left: Special Agent in Charge, Miami Field Division, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Mark Trouville; Project Manager, U.S. Coast Guard Facilities and Design Construction Center, Eric Hansen; Representative, Leo A. Daly Company; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development the Hon. Philip Davis; Minister of National Security the Hon. Dr. Bernard Nottage; Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government and MP for MICAL V. Alfred Gray; Minister of Transport and Aviation the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin; and Minister of State in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation the Hon. Hope Strachan. (BIS photo/Peter Ramsay)
He added that American technical support has included
state-of-the-art aircrafts, interceptor vessels, and capacity building,
through training programs for Bahamian officials to navigate the illegal
path to pursue and conclude cases against those who enter the nation’s
waters for nefarious purposes.
“It has continued to shore up the foundations of
regional security cooperation, and through the past few years of financial
difficulty have placed great burdens on the law enforcement agencies
of our nations, OPBAT has supplemented any operational deficit these
agencies may have suffered and through this partnership, we have overcome
years of budget constraints to maintain our efforts to counter the illicit
flow of narcotics, aims and persons.”
Prime Minister Christie said through the partnership,
the Tri-part has also supplemented experimental deficits. “American
operation training and know-how, combined with local knowledge of reefs,
shoals, weather, trends and transport routes have proved to be a successful
combination over the years.
“Through OPBAT, the United States, The Bahamas
and the Turks and Caicos Islands are much more effective at policing
borders and adopting a more proactive attitude in the pursuit of border
security and a drug-free zone.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban
Development the Hon. Philip Davis; Minister of National Security the
Hon. Dr. Bernard Nottage; Minister of Transport and Aviation the Hon.
Glenys Hanna-Martin; Minister of State in the Ministry of Transport
and Aviation the Hon. Hope Strachan; and the Minister of Agriculture,
Marine Resources and Local Government and MP for MICAL V. Alfred Gray
were also present at the event.
Chargé d’Affaires John Dinkelman;
representatives from the armed forces as well as senior government officials
OPBAT one of the largest cooperative effort by any government
By: Llonella Gilbert
Bahamas Information Services
NASSAU, Bahamas -- The United States Coast Guard and Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands (OPBAT) are one of the largest and cooperative efforts by any government involved in drug enforcement, Minister of National Security the Hon. Dr. Bernard Nottage said.
Over the years, joint Bahamas and U.S. investigations have resulted in the takedown of major Bahamian drug rings and hundreds of arrests in the U.S. and The Bahamas the National Security Minister said during the ceremony for the opening of the OPBAT Aircraft Hangar at the Inagua International Airport, Thursday, March 21, 2013.
“It was (a) bittersweet and somewhat troubling time for The Bahamas when we learnt of the decision by the U.S. to pull Army helicopter assets out of the OPBAT mission in Georgetown Exuma in 2007 to better support operations in the Middle East.”
Dr. Nottage explained that the U.S. Army had manned the mission in Georgetown some 21 years.
“Their efforts, along with those of the U.S. Coast Guard, the DEA, the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the U.S. and Bahamas Governments, resulted in decreasing the flow of U.S. bound cocaine through The Bahamas from over 70 per cent at the beginning of OPBAT in 1982 to around 10 per cent in 2007.
“Thankfully, the rotary and fixed wing assets of the DEA were able to seamlessly continue operations in Georgetown so that today, I am advised, the percentage of cocaine passing through the U.S. via The Bahamas has been reduced some five per cent.”
The National Security Minister explained that OPBAT was started to combat the flow of drugs into the U.S. through The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
He said that combat continues, and while the primary focus has been counter drug, the U.S. Coast Guard assets stationed in Inagua have been utilised for counter illegal migration and smuggling, natural disaster response and search and rescue operations.
Dr. Nottage said much of the flow of narcotics has moved to the Central America/Mexico corridor.
“However, in recent years the flow has dramatically increased through Hispaniola, and subsequently through The Bahamas.
“As the Merida Initiative and Southern Border Counter-Drug Strategy take effect, The Bahamas is expected to be increasingly threatened by drug smugglers. The Bahamas lies directly on the route from Hispaniola to the U.S.”
Dr. Nottage said the comparatively less expensive transportation route through The Bahamas as compared to the route through Mexico would always make trafficking through The Bahamas an attractive alternative for smuggling.
“The location of this hangar on the southernmost island of The Bahamas’ archipelago allows for the strategic positioning of air assets in the Windward Passage area for operational efficiency and sustainability.”
The Minister said, “The Windward Passage has for decades seen a very high flow of illegal migrants heading towards the U.S., most fleeing from Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.”
He thanked the U.S. for the significant investment of $20 million in the construction of the aircraft hangar, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ike in September 2008.
Dr. Nottage said The Bahamas is committed to doing its part in contributing to the fight against illicit drugs.
“Just last week the Bahamas Government executed a Letter of Intent with DAMEN Shipyards Group, headquartered in the Netherlands, for the acquisition of eight coast and offshore patrol vessels and a dedicated roll-on, roll-off landing craft.
“The landing craft will be fitted with a 25 tonne crane and demountable disaster relief equipment to provide emergency relief, inclusive of medical facilities, desalinated water and sanitary equipment, which will rapidly be deployed in the even of a natural disaster.”
He said the vessels and the ancillary base development will take place over three to four years and will cost some $200 million.
“The Bahamas Government is determined to protect the security and economic well-being of the people of The Bahamas and this acquisition of vessels is a powerful endorsement of this commitment,” said Dr. Nottage.