Migrant smugglers and poachers are downsizing their vessels in a bid to slip past authorities patrolling the waters of The Bahamas, said Commodore of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Tellis Bethel.
Bethel said the force has had to adapt its apprehension strategies to address the new trends.
“The defense force continues to maintain a patrol in the southern Bahamas, and, of course, we would have had several incidents of late where we apprehended migrants, but we just continue to maintain a lookout,” Bethel told the media, following the Ministry of National Security’s senior management conclave at The Island House.
“This time of year you have the cold fronts that come through, and you take advantage of the strong winds.
“Also, we have realized for some time that they have been shifting their means of transport. They are using the more modern types of yachts, so you have to be on the lookout for not just the regular wooden sloop but modern sailing vessels as well.”
Bethel pointed to the recent apprehension of 54 migrants in Abaco.
During the roundup, 29 migrants were apprehended aboard a yacht anchored near the entrance of Man-O-War Cay, Marsh Harbour, Abaco.
Authorities were alerted by local residents about undocumented Haitian nationals being ferried ashore by a speed boat with an additional 25 Haitian migrants aboard.
Speaking to the latest trend of yachts and go-fast boats as the choice vessels for smuggling illegals into the country, Bethel added, “We have had some success in that area but we will continue to maintain patrols, whether it’s air patrols or sea patrols.”
He added that similar trends are being seen for suspected Dominican poachers.
“The defense force has made some significant inroads with respect to the poaching situation,” Bethel said.
“Of course, several months ago we apprehended at one time three steel-hulled vessels, and altogether for the year, 2018, we apprehended… approximately 197 Dominican poachers, with fines totaling up to $8 million.
“Some reports that we are getting from the local fishing community [are] that there seems to be no interference with the Dominicans.
“But we also note that they have also shifted their means of poaching.
“When you make an inroad in one area, you have success in other areas; you have to always be mindful it’s not over, because people are always thinking what to do next.
“What we have observed now is they are using smaller go-fast types of vessels to fish near Little Inagua, as close to the Dominican Republic, and we’ve had some success in apprehending them as well.”
Bethel said the force has been networking with all of its local and regional partner agencies, including immigration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Turks and Caicos Islands in order to get information about illegal entries into Bahamian waters.
“The vast maritime domain that The Bahamas has, it’s like, if you don’t have these eyes and ears, it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack, and certainly that has been improving the way we do business,” he said.