National Coastguard’s $3 million outpost on Calabash Caye
Patrolling the length and breadth of Belize’s maritime sovereignty is an arduous task that pits law enforcement officers against international criminals’ intent on using our waters as a conduit for illegal activity. Without a designated location to carry out naval operations, the Coast Guard was at a serious disadvantage. And what was once a distant dream and a crayon sketch for such a facility has now become a reality which serves both form and function. News Five Isani Cayetano headed out to Calabash Caye today for the launch of what is known as the Calabash Caye Forward Operating base.
“The idea of an observation post off the coast of Belize birthed seventeen years ago has come to fruition as today the Belize National Coastguard formally launched its forward operating base here on Calabash Caye.”
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
This modern three million dollar operating base was first envisioned in 1993, well before Belize established an independent maritime presence. Its strategic location, as Captain John Borland says, will allow for beefed up patrols within its radius thereby cracking down on the trafficking of illegal cargo through Belize‘s territorial waters.
Captain John Borland, Commandant Belize National Coastguard
“We’re almost smack in the middle of the transshipment zone out here and this in the past was a safe haven for drug runners, drug smugglers. What it does now, it sends a clear message to drug traffickers, as I said, people involved or planning to conduct illicit activities that the government and people of Belize are serious about maintaining our sea spaces free of maritime crime.”
The brainchild of Retired B.D.F. General, Alan Usher, this maritime lookout point is a state of the art facility situated thirty nautical miles off the coast of the old capital. He explains how they chose the site.
Alan Usher, Retired General Belize Defense Force
“This operating base here, we started out, how we decided on Turneffe we figured that Lighthouse Reef would be a little too far and we needed to control more the middle area. We looked at the approaches into Belize, the outer atoll of Lighthouse Reef tends to canalize movement of vessels between Turneffe and then the Lighthouse Reef and then we played with some radar templates looking at how high we could get a radar. What surface coverage we could get and eventually we came up with this area of Turneffe.”
The octagonal structure which stands adjacent to property owned by the University of Belize was built to weather severe storms. It is also the product of a joint partnership between the Belize National Coastguard and the United States Southern Command.
Lt. Col. Chris Eldridge, United States Military Liaison Officer
“In 2004 when the coastguard was in its development the U.S. Coastguard got involved in helping to plan how the coastguard in Belize would be developed and forward operating bases and leader training were all part of that original plan.”
“In terms of the resources and training that will be offered to the personnel of the National Coastguard, how will that shape out in terms of the fight against the transshipment of narcotics through Belize?”
Lt. Col. Chris Eldridge
“Well as you know, there is a growing concern about the narco-trafficking, illicit trafficking that includes human, drugs, weapons and as the drugs move from the south to the north Belize will continue to be under pressure as a transshipment location. So what we’re doing and what we’ve always been doing within the U.S. Southern Command is continuing to support Belize in that security effort whether it‘s infrastructure development within the coastguard, the Belize Defense Force we are committed to helping them help in the counter drug effort.”
The Calabash Caye Forward Operating Base will assist the Belize National Coastguard in maintaining its Maritime Domain Awareness and will be manned by police, B.D.F. and Coastguard officers. Reporting for News Five, Isani Cayetano.