While bringing remarks at the 6th Multilateral Interdiction and Prosecution Summit, on August 7, 2018, Minister of National Security the Hon. Marvin H. Dames said The Government of The Bahamas places a high priority on national security; and the protection of its borders is one of the fundamental duties in its efforts to safeguard Bahamian citizens, residents, and visitors from all forms of threats to national security. “As an archipelagic nation comprising some 700 islands and cays and having the largest maritime domain in the region with over 100,000 square miles of water, maritime security remains paramount on the agenda of our government,” Minister Dames said during the event held at the Andros Room of the Grand Hyatt Convention Center, Baha Mar resort. Among those in attendance included Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Richard Glenn; Seventh District Commander US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown; US Coast Guard Commander Michael Benson; US Coast Guard Liaison and Department of Homeland Security Attache to The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos Lieutenant Commander Justin Matejka; Global Maritime Operational Threat Response Coordination Center Brian Wilson; United Nations Office of Drugs & Crime Dr. Ian Ralby; Assistant Executive Secretary, Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), Organization of American States Ms. Angela Crowdy; and moderator US Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Paul Windt.
Acting Permanent Secretary Eugene Poitier, Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Anthony Ferguson, and Commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel also were a part of The Bahamas Delegation to the Summit. Minister Dames noted that an integrated maritime picture reveals the necessity of having a robust coordinated and intelligence-driven response mechanism undergirded by surveillance and an “incessant presence” to effectively respond, prevent and in some cases interdict any number of maritime threats posed to our national security. Specific to The Bahamas, he said, are poaching and migrant smuggling, which is often connected with drug and firearm trafficking. “As the Minister of National Security, I understand the importance of collaboration among law enforcement agencies,” Minister Dames said. “To this end, our government has taken several steps to dismantle the silos between our law enforcement agencies which has for a very long-time hampered cohesion and productivity, thereby resulting in transnationally organized groups gaining the upper hand in many instances.” “We have taken several proactive steps to change this position and we are witnessing the results of our efforts,” he added. “We re-established The Heads of Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA) to embrace the opportunity to share intelligence and resources; combine select training and coordinate multi-agency operations.” That integrated approach to The Bahamas’ territorial and maritime security includes the development of a Multi-Agency Drone Programme to augment the capabilities of our security forces during land and sea operations, he pointed out. “This Multi-Agency Drone Programme will also be used to assist non-law enforcement agencies of government, like the Department of Lands and Surveys and the Port Department, in the execution of critical functions within their respective Ministries,” Minister Dames said.
Minister Dames told attendees that, during the Tradewinds Exercise 2018 hosted by The Bahamas, it was important for The Bahamas to also have – in addition to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force – the participation of The Royal Bahamas Police Force and The Bahamas Customs Department. “Their collective participation in this regional military exercise this past June that included some 800 participants from 20 different nations reinforced our Government’s commitment to creating a multi-agency law enforcement bridge that connects all our law enforcement agencies in a unified and cohesive body,” he said. “This U.S.-sponsored Exercise engaged participants in simulated terrorist attacks and appropriate military responses, including maritime related specialized dives, explosive ordinance disposal, cyber and maritime interdiction. “This exercise was both timely and purposeful, as it prepared our Agencies to confront modern challenges faced at the national security level.” Minister Dames said that the Royal Bahamas Defence Force stood at the forefront of safeguarding the nation’s maritime domain. To strengthen its seafaring presence in addition to its presence throughout the archipelago, the Government of The Bahamas had invested $232 million dollars in capital works into the Royal Bahamas Defence Force for its Sandy Bottom Project. “The Sandy Bottom Project allows for increased assets and a greater presence of Defence Force marines throughout the Bahamian archipelago, he said. “For example, the construction of bases in Inagua and Ragged Island in the southern Bahamas, and Abaco, Bimini, and Grand Bahama in the northern Bahamas. The absence of strategic bases in Inagua and Ragged Island, and the corresponding lack of capacity to sustain long-term deployments of Defence Force personnel, ships, and aircraft from these locations, make it extremely difficult to effectively mitigate illicit activities that originate within this part of The Bahamas.”
In addition to the base to be constructed at Ragged Island, Minister Dames pointed out, plans were also underway for a technical workshop and aircraft hangar. “Ragged Island is situated 120 miles northwest of the southernmost island of Inagua, and such infrastructure on Ragged Island is critically important for sustaining maritime operations near the eastern border of the Great Bahama Bank; an area often targeted by persons involved in poaching, drug, and migrant smuggling,” he added. As it related to the nation’s ports of entry, Minister Dames stated, the implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) had significantly improved the security posture of all of The Bahamas’ designated port facilities. “Presently, The Bahamas has 23 ISPS compliant port facilities, two of which are government operated port facilities; the Prince George Wharf Port Facility and the Marsh Harbour Abaco Port Facility,” he noted. “To date, all designated port facilities in The Bahamas have been inspected and issued a Statement of Compliance, thus verifying that they are compliant with internationally recognized maritime security standards. These standards strengthen the ability of these facilities to effectively prevent illegal cargo and persons from accessing them.”
Further, Minister Dames said, The Bahamas also enacted The Ship and Port Facility Security Regulations 2016, which allow for the levying of fines for those designated ships and port facilities that were non-compliant with the requirements of the ISPS Code. According to The Bahamas Department ISPS Coordinator’s Report, 2017, he noted, that new regulation had further improved the security posture of the port facilities within The Bahamas. “Notwithstanding the aforementioned efforts, our geographical position places our nation in the direct transiting path of transnational drug trafficking from the drug supplier nations in South America to the demand markets in North America,” Minister Dames said. “In fact, The Bahamas is labeled as a part of the second largest cocaine smuggling route for illicit drugs entering the United States, as indicated in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Reports 2010 and 2017.” Moreover, Minister Dames said, drug traffickers have become more sophisticated and diverse in their operations. Their ability to communicate and track transshipment through international borders has made their organizations even more difficult to detect, he added. “Traffickers are exploiting the technology of all kinds to track their illicit merchandise from remote stretches of Latin America, all the way to their destinations in North America, Europe and beyond,” he said. “Smartphones are used frequently to coordinate transshipment as well as act as an early warning device against authorities.”
Those groups are also exploiting the new technologies available in social media to assist their organizations, he stated. Minister Dames quoted the National Gang Intelligence Center (OAS 2014) by citing “transnational criminal organizations and gangs are increasingly using social media resources for propaganda, intimidation, recruitment, and communication. They have posted hundreds of videos on social media depicting money and riches set to songs that glorify the drug trafficking lifestyle”. He said that the Government of The Bahamas believes that transnational drug trafficking has the ability to destroy the moral fiber of any society. In that regard, coupled with an aggressive and effective legislative agenda, Minister Dames said the government has refocused its actions to launch an effective assault on organized criminal networks; specifically purveyors of drug trafficking, terrorism, human smuggling, and poaching. “In particular, we expect great results from the Interception of Communication Act, whereby authorities can collect necessary intelligence and thwart criminal plans; and the Proceeds of Crime Act, which is enacted to expose all persons, organizations, and companies involved in criminal activity that seek to support, cover up and conspire with others to conceal their ill-gotten gains, by whatever means necessary,” he said.
Minister Dames said that The Bahamas is also a part of a number of agreements and treaties related to our anti-drug trafficking efforts, including The United States and The Bahamas Agreement On Mutual Assistance On Criminal Matters; The Cooperative Ship Rider Agreement and Over Flight Interdiction Program For Joint Operations; and Operations Bahamas Turk and Caicos (OPBAT), which is a collaboration between The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and the United States to interdict and disrupt narcotic networks, using various islands as launch points. Those agreements had already yielded significant successes in the fight against drug trafficking, he noted. The timeliness of the Summit provides The Bahamas an opportunity to prune its current maritime strategies, create new networks, while also strengthening existing ones, Minister Dames said. During the various sessions taking for the two days, he added, the speakers would address various maritime security challenges occurring in the region. “As our seas and oceans are boundless, threats of illicit maritime activity requires the combined efforts of all stakeholders,” Minister Dames said. “Ladies and gentlemen, as the Minister of National Security, I pledge my commitment and that of The Government of The Bahamas, to forging new partnerships, strengthening our existing ones, and to maximizing our resources for a safer region.”