By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — Suriname finally has a coast guard of which the government can be proud, said Vice President Robert Ameerali last Sunday, during the ceremonial inauguration of the Coast Guard service, which took over 20 years to be realised.
The objective is to protect Suriname’s territorial waters, defend its economic zone from illegal fishing, drug-trafficking and piracy and fight maritime crime activities, especially with the upsurge of piracy from neighbouring Guyana that has been terrorizing Guyanese fishermen.
Guyanese fishermen have turned to Suriname for help. Just last week, four Guyanese pirates were arrested in Suriname waters in the Coronie area.
Kumar Doodnauth, former chairman of the Upper Corentyne Fishermen’s Co-op Society told Guyana’s Kaiteur News back in February “that the judicial system is very weak in Guyana and even if the hijackers are caught — which rarely happens — the process can be compromised. If you talk to these fishermen, they are just fed up with the legal system — from the magistrate to the police — you getting harassed out there and when you come here, they also harass you.”
“We got a problem in this country, which everybody knows. If you are an investigating rank and you know that someone has been identified — somewhere down the line, someone is going to take a pay off – that’s what we got to deal with.”
Colonel Jerry Slijngaard, who heads government’s Coast Guard committee, said the vessels are barely sufficient to patrol Suriname’s territorial waters and combat maritime crime activities like piracy, but at least for now it’s a start.
The patrol craft are fast, flexible and agile and equipped with the most modern technology. They were manufactured by the French company OCEA at a cost of about $23 million. They are FPB 98 type and FPB 72 type ships. The FPB 98 type is 32 metres in length and 6.3 metres wide. The FPB 72 type is 24 metres long. The vessels can reach speeds of 30 knots.
The Maritime Authority of Suriname (MAS) is currently training 16 students on how to conduct technical maintenance of the vessels with the help of OCEA that provided a trainer to help conduct a six-month course.
The Coast Guard will fall under the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Suriname. The crew will come from soldiers who will be transferred from the Navy Unit of the National Army, and will form the initial Coast Guard staff.
The coast guard will soon get its own base on the banks of the Suriname River in Paramaribo, with posts at the borders with Guyana and French Guiana.