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Is history going to repeat itself?

Published: 
Monday, June 4, 2018
Purchasing unsuitable vessels for Coast Guard
Some of the T&T Coast Guard vessels achored Down the Islands.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, speaking to the media upon his return from China and Australia last week, made a number of questionable and erroneous statements as it pertains to border security and the fleet of vessels currently owned by the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard (TTCG).

It is obvious that either the Prime Minister does not know what is going on with these vessels or he is being very disingenuous with his comments.

His announcement that his administration intends to purchase two new ferries at a cost of US$160 million (TT$830 million), plus one new patrol vessel, it seems that the PNM’s history of purchasing defective and/or unsuitable vessels is about to repeat itself.

This administration is again following former PNM administrations’ habit of making the wrong type of purchases for our marine fleet, which was then negatively compounded by incompetent management, resulting in further wasteful spending and improper purchases of assets for our nation’s security.

Rowley had the audacity to say that the Persad-Bissessar-led People’s Partnership government (PPG) caused the borders not to be secured and they left the borders defenceless.

As is his idiom, Rowley continues to be very economical with the truth and selective with his facts.

What is a fact is the PP government purchased 12 Damen Vessels and an OPV-sized Long Ranged Vessel from China for TT$1 billion - less than the cost of the 3 OPVs ordered by the previous Manning-led PNM administration. What the Manning administration could not do in eight years, the PPG did in four, securing all the vessels necessary to seal our borders.

Contrary to Rowley’s disingenuous comments, the PP government provided the TTCG with 12 Damen Vessels and the OPV-sized Long Ranged Vessel to patrol and lock down our coastline. If anyone wants to verify this, simply pass ‘Down the Islands’ and you would see almost all of these vessels now permanently moored there. It has nothing to do with asset acquisition. Rowley is refusing to tell the country the reason the vessels are not patrolling the borders is due to his administration’s refusal to provide the TTCG with the necessary fuel, rations and manpower to operate the vessels and have them do the job that they were purchased for.

Instead, and to deflect the failures of his administration, Rowley makes the ludicrous comment that refurbishing the six defective Austal vessels is what is required for the TTCG to patrol our coasts. After this “refurbishment”, will the administration then finally provide the TTCG with the fuel, rations and manpower to operate the Austal vessels? If not, it follows that the TTCG will have more working vessels on hand, none of which will be able to be used properly if the same shortage ‘policy’ continues.

In his press conference, Rowley disclosed that Austal officials will soon be in Trinidad to evaluate the six vessels which are “gathering moss”, as he put it.

Here’s a fact about these “sea-moss” vessels. Despite being originally rejected by the TTCG as being unsuitable, the then PNM government nevertheless went ahead with their acquisition and these vessels were delivered in 2009.

The question arises, “Why were these relatively new vessels breaking down and ultimately became totally unserviceable in a matter of mere months?”

It has been confirmed by both TTCG and Austal that these vessels are built for operating in lakes, not the Bocas! This is why the TTCG refused to repair them, as they are not conducive to our waters on the North Coast. These vessels became quickly unserviceable due to the extent of rapid marine growth on their hulls and by foreign objects being sucked in by the water jets.

More importantly, the Coast Guard required their patrol vessels to be able to travel at a certain maximum speed. To achieve that maximum speed, these Austal vessels were deliberately built very light, with thin sheeting for the hulls, and every time they touched the jetty in Staubles Bay, the hulls were damaged, creating further unnecessary service problems. The thin hulls also caused the vessels to be very unstable in the open ocean, as they were so light and high off the water. The rough seas and winds made it very uncomfortable for the sailors onboard, causing nausea and fatigue and consequently reduced time at sea.

Hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars were therefore wasted, in keeping with the history of the PNM acquiring wholly unsuitable vessels, just like the interceptors that they purchased for the TTGC. Despite the TTCG’s rejection of these vessels as being unsuitable for our waters, the Manning administration nonetheless proceeded with their acquisition.

It was recommended that these vessels should not be operated on the North Coast, yet here we have Dr Rowley foolishly saying that he is repairing them for the Coast Guard to secure our borders.

Capil Bisson,
via email

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