The wave of grave maritime incidents should have made at least three things clear to the administration. First, that the Guyana Police Force is ill-equipped to counter crimes which occur in this country’s numerous waterways and territorial sea along its 432 km coastline. Second, that − as this year’s Shell Beach, Caiman Hole, Hog Island and Wakenaam Island killings indicate − the maritime security situation has been deteriorating. Third, that sooner or later the maritime security system must be transformed if normalcy is to be restored to riverine and coastal communities.
Time was when delegations of aggrieved fishermen would travel to Georgetown to meet the Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud or Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee to seek relief from the depredations of pirates. Fobbed off with bromides from Persaud to form committees similar to the land-based community policing groups and from Rohee that “steps were being taken to remedy the situation,” they returned to their villages with their problems unsolved. Nowadays, the Minister of Home Affairs is more likely to be photographed presenting boats and engines to community policing groups rather than to the regular police.
Little has been done to counter the raft of notorious, coastal maritime and riverine crimes — backtracking; contraband trade; drug-smuggling; gun-running; piracy and the murders that accompany them. This is because, although there are sufficient police stations in all six coastal regions, the Force does not possess marine assets to match its law-enforcement functions.
Subsisting as a minuscule sub-section under the Force’s Transport Section along with motor cycles and lorries, the marine police is organised primarily for transportation purposes. It does not have the capability to conduct patrols by day and night, protect fishermen and passengers on water-taxis, prevent criminal activity, ensure riverine safety and investigate breaches of the law along the coastland and in the estuaries of this country’s numerous rivers. Police officers are not trained to do maritime work and, anyway, the little section simply does not have sufficient personnel.
The rivers, creeks and coastal waters are an operational ‘blind spot’ in policing. That is the reason why there is so much lawlessness on the waterways. It is common knowledge that the riverine port ‘towns’ of Mabaruma, Charity, Parika and Skeldon have become nodal points for the huge, hardly hidden contraband economy. It is also common knowledge that the Force’s limitations prevent it from pursuing culprits after maritime crimes have been committed.
The Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, Customs and Trade Administration of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Guyana Energy Agency and the Maritime Administration Department of the Ministry of Public Works and Communication have responsibility for various aspects of law enforcement, the suppression of smuggling and maritime safety. But they are essentially landlubbers with even fewer resources than the police. They do not have enough vessels and personnel to perform their statutory waterborne functions effectively.
Times and crimes have changed. It will be impossible to improve maritime security without increasing maritime security assets. The Police Force, perhaps together with the Defence Force’s Coast Guard, will have to build an information and intelligence network, acquire radar, computing and communication equipment and construct coastal stations to assist in tracking the fast-moving pirates and smugglers.
Modern maritime security requires a whole way of thinking by the administration and a whole new system such as the country has never had. The Administration must stop talking about taking steps and start taking action by providing the Police Force with the resources to counter coastal piracy, suppress the contraband trade, improve the safety of travellers and protect our vulnerable fishermen.