Overseas experts have carried out some forensic checks on the semi-submersible vessel recently found in Region One and the evidence gathered will be further analysed once the vessel has been moved to a more secure location.
“It’s still in the middle of the jungle and we have to consider safety and security of the persons there,” head of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) James Singh told reporters yesterday. The forensic tests will be done to determine things such as the design, the engine, the shape and the capacity of the vessel, Singh explained.
He said that such an analysis would give one a better understanding of whether the vessel has the ability to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The CANU head added too that investigations are ongoing and so far more than five or six persons have been questioned. He said that at the moment, the investigators are trying to determine who built the vessel and where those persons came from.
Singh noted that the vessel was constructed in Guyana and according to him, its discovery is a sign that traffickers are using “new and different mechanisms and routes.”
Singh said that “they (the traffickers) are always trying to traffick drugs but we are also doing our best.” The fact that the camp was found means that Guyana is committed to the fight against drug trafficking, the anti-drugs chief added.
Though this discovery is being touted as a sign of the commitment to drug trafficking, opposition leader David Granger yesterday said that there needs to be more action and less talk. He described the response by President Donald Ramotar to the discovery as “deeply disturbing” and “weak.”
The discovery of the vessel has sparked concerns about Guyana’s ability to effectively target drug smugglers and more so, the inability of the relevant authorities to not only detect the presence of the vessel earlier but also the architects of it.
Last Thursday, CANU officials and the Guyana Defence Force Special Forces, Coast Guard and Air Corps conducted an operation along the Waini River in the North West District and during a search of one of the creeks branching off from the Waini, a blue vessel later identified as a Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible (SPSS) was discovered about two miles in, along with a camp consisting of three structures – accommodation, workshop area and generator, a CANU press release had stated.
The accommodation, according to the release, had the capacity to sleep approximately 12 persons and there was also a kitchen area within it. The workshop consisted of pulleys, power tools, paint, and several fibre-glass materials. Based on the items present, it was evident that this area was used to build the SPSS found in the creek. The SPSS upon closer inspection, was already fitted with a diesel engine and steering wheel, navigation and other machinery to deem it serviceable. There was no contraband on board the vessel.
During APNU’s weekly press conference yesterday, Granger said that for two decades the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has failed to curb trafficking in illegal narcotics.
In this regard, he said, his party is calling on the President to immediately execute a credible national drug strategy master plan, establish an effective national enforcement structure, enforce current legislation vigorously and equip the security forces with the assets to curb the trade. “These tasks must not be left to the Minister of Home Affairs who has failed to curb the drug trade,” he read from a prepared statement while adding that it is clear that government either has “lost interest in ending the narco-trade or is untroubled by the damage that the trade is doing to this country and its people.”
Granger said too that president needs to address the continuous warning in the US Department of State’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that “Guyana is a trans-shipment point for South American cocaine on its way to North America and Europe.”
He made the point that it has been five years since the National Drug Strategy Master Plan has expired and government has not replaced it.
According to Granger, the country’s two counter-narcotics agencies, CANU and the Police Anti-Narcotics Unit, have never been provided with the surveillance aircraft, river and coastal patrol boats, all-terrain vehicles and trained personnel needed to secure the country’s international transit points, coasts and borders. “They are incapable of locating, identifying, investigating and prosecuting the major drug cartels,” he asserted.
The opposition leader stated that Guyana under the present administration has “become a warehouse and an international emporium from which narco-traffickers export their merchandise to foreign markets.” Hardly a month passes that cocaine is not discovered in shipments of fruit and vegetables, he asserted.
According to Granger, the transnational dimensions of narco-trafficking is probably the most serious. He said that in February it was a shock to learn that US and Italian law-enforcement agencies had uncovered a trans-Atlantic mafia ring responsible for trafficking in cocaine exported from this country. “This development has extremely serious security implications,” he said.
He stressed that for over two decades, the PPP/C has demonstrated a lack of “political will to eradicate narco-trafficking” and added that the president must accept responsibility for the failure of his party’s counter-narcotics campaign. “He must make more than limited promises. He must commit his Administration absolutely to effective performance,” Granger declared.
Former police commissioner Winston Felix, responding to questions from reporters, said that the government was put on notice about the drug situation since 1993 when a man flew into Guyana undetected from Columbia and dumped cocaine in a community up the Demerara River. “You want to tell me that the government did not see its shortcoming from there… and to take progressive steps to correct it?” he queried.
Asked how a David Granger-led government would deal with the narco-trafficking situation, the opposition leader said that the focus will be placed on beefing up the two drug enforcement agencies and put them under proper management. “We need to have a strong CANU and a strong police narcotics unit,” he said, adding that a drug strategy needs to be in place as well as attention would be paid to ensuring that the relevant agencies are outfitted with proper assets. The vigorous enforcement and application of the law, he said, would be another area of focus for him.
The opposition leader stated that there needs to be an architectural structure or a stratified system, particularly in terms of intelligence gathering if the narco-trafficking situation is to be effectively tackled. Granger asserted that this structure is expected to be effective in the absence of aircraft and other assets because there would be people on the ground providing information.
Felix subsequently noted that during his time, there was a lack of resources to go after drug traffickers, particularly when it came to witness protection. This, he said, is an important element in the fight against narco-trafficking. The former Top Cop said that back then this was recommended to government so as to encourage persons to come forward.
He added that had he had a hand in the present investigation into the discovery of the vessel, he would have ensured that visits are paid to certain countries in Central America in order to develop relationships to discover who is involved. “We would want to know here and I don’t see a foreigner coming into Guyana to construct such a vessel without there being an accommodation for him or her,” he said, before expressing the view that Guyanese must have had a share in the construction of that vessel.
In this regard, he said that investigation ought to be twofold: in Guyana and outside of Guyana.
While noting that this is the first vessel found, Felix said that he is more concerned at the fact that the country’s space is being violated and “we do very little to prevent it or even detect it while it is happening… the more freedom we give the drug barons to act, the more they will take over our country.”