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Jul 20, 2022

Sarstoon Forward Operating Base is Under Serious Threat of Erosion

It has been a little over six years since the Sarstoon F.O.B. was inaugurated at the southernmost end of the country. Viewers would recall that at the time of the opening there was conflict between our security forces and the Guatemalan military which patrolled the waterway and often crossed over into Belize’s side of the river. While tension has de-escalated, another problem has arisen, resulting in the withdrawal of personnel from the forward operating base. It is a reminder that climate change is real and threatens Belize’s coastal front. Erosion has washed away significant portions of land surrounding the F.O.B. which has been deemed unfit for occupancy by military personnel assigned to the location.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

When the forward operating base at the mouth of the Sarstoon River was inaugurated in April 2016, it had become absolutely necessary for our security forces to maintain a full-time presence near the estuary.  It was at a time when there was heightened tension between Belize and Guatemala over access to the river.  Belize Defense Force and coast guard personnel were deployed to the location where a wooden structure had been erected at a price tag of a hundred thousand Belize dollars.


 [File: April, 20th, 2016]

John Borland

Rear Admiral John Borland, Commandant, Belize Coast Guard

“One of the coast guard’s responsibilities at this location will be to deal with illegal fishing and what we saw here today will be addressed in very short span of time because the coast guard is coming out here to do its job, to act responsibly, but to enforce all our maritime laws within our sea spaces.  Joint services means it will be occupied by members of the B.D.F. There has to be a police officer as well and then the coast guard will take care of the maritime component. The responsibility of policing the river is for the B.D.F., along with the police. And everything in the littorals is the responsibility of the coast guard, so we are going to be conducting joint operations here.  The facility is built, as you saw, to occupy at least a dozen people and we are looking at a staffing of eight B.D.F. members, along with four coast guard and perhaps a single policeman to staff the facility.”


Over the past six years, the installation used to support strategic goals and tactical objectives in the area of Sarstoon River has come under threat.  The danger that is being posed is not from the Guatemalan Armed Forces on the opposite side of the river, but by the elements.  The ebb and flow of waves crashing onto the shore constantly wash away the soil upon which the F.O.B. was built.


Jermaine Burns

Lt. Col. Jermaine Burns, Chief of Staff, B.D.F.

“Due to severe erosion over the years, from its inception in 2016 to date, we have deemed it unfit or unsafe for the soldiers to remain within the building and so we have conducted what is called a tactical withdrawal to the Barranco Forward Operating Base that the coast guard is currently occupying.  And we’re going to be operating from out of that base until some repairs can be done to the current structure in order for us to deem it fit and return to the FOB.”


The location is ideal for the simple reason that the range of vision allows staff manning the base to see across the river.  What the engineers did not expect was that there would have been a gradual and significant increase in the strength of waves.


Jermaine Burns

“The area is a strategic area because it gives us that full field of view over to the adjacent Guatemalan village and so we were restricted in selecting an area that could give us that level of advantage.  But at that time, we had no idea that erosion would have happened so quickly.  The floods that used to occur in the Sarstoon and the level of the waves from the environmental impact assessment that was done didn’t indicate that in no way shape or form that it would have occurred so swiftly.”


Despite efforts to fill the area beneath the structure, the earth continued to wear away, taking with it vegetation surrounding the F.O.B.


Jermaine Burns

“The mangroves that were in the area, the vegetation from our perspective, we thought that those would hold together the soil.  And so, we didn’t expect this to happen, truthfully.  And so, when the area was constructed we knew that we need some sort of ability to board our vessels, so eventually we put a pier there to move out from the land to the sea easy and have our vessels dock alongside that pier.  That was the only addition from the start, but in 2018 we started to notice the erosion.”


According to Lieutenant Colonel Jermaine Burns, a financial plan is yet to be drawn up to cover the cost of the undertaking.  He told News Five earlier today that they are looking at several options on how to address the issue.


Jermaine Burns

“In terms of a budget, we have a final engineer visit that’s going out there either later this week to finalize or next week and that team is going to let us know exactly what it is that it’s going to cost for what we want done. We have not finalized on how large this seawall is going to be, whether we are going to replace the building with another type of material that wouldn’t be susceptible to a bit of erosion in the future or if it is that we create an island by simply making a seawall all the way around a particular piece of land that will completely omit water from going into the area.”


Isani Cayetano for News Five


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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