PHILIPSBURG--The Coast Guard would like to become a 24/7 organisation, similar to the police. However, this cannot be achieved until additional personnel are employed and additional money has to be made available for this by the individual islands, including St. Maarten.
In an invited comment, Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard Acting Director Hans Schreuder responded to remarks made by Curaçao Minister of Justice Navarro, who said recently that a proposal had been made for the Coast Guard to be operational 24/7.
Navarro said the proposal had been made during the recent Judiciary Tripartite meeting between Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson and his colleagues of Curaçao and Aruba. Curaçao newspaper Amigoe reported this based on remarks made by Navarro during the weekly government press conference in Curaçao.
Navarro stated that the islands had agreed that this would be a better way to function, but the proposal has to be processed before it will become clear how this will be arranged in practice.
The Coast Guard is under jurisdiction of the Kingdom, so the proposal first has to be approved by Dutch Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who is due in Curaçao on a working visit. Navarro stated he would discuss the matter with her on that occasion.
Schreuder specified that the Coast Guard was a Kingdom Cooperation between St. Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba and the Netherlands. At this moment, the organisation does not have a 24/7 presence on territorial waters, but is available for emergencies 24/7, as there is always an on-call team that can be summoned. It takes an hour for this team to be mobilised.
"The Coast Guard has indicated for a number of years that it would like to be a 24/7 organisation, similar to the police, for instance," said Schreuder. "If the Coast Guard would be a 24/7 organisation, there would always be a team available on the water or at the headquarters. In case of emergencies, they could be mobilised immediately and wouldn't need time to be called out, as is the case with the current system.
"A 24/7 Coast Guard for Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten requires an increase of at least 30 staff members, a minimum of 10 per island. The Coast Guard does not have the budget for this. The countries St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao, but also the Netherlands, which already pays 85 per cent of the total Coast Guard budget, have indicated that they are not able or willing to contribute more funds towards the Coast Guard."
He explained that the Coast Guard Director could execute his plans to extend the Coast Guard to a 24/7 organisation only if additional funds were made available. The Director, who is responsible for organising the Coast Guard, must stay within budget, but he has designed the organisation in such a way that, should additional funds be made available for a 24/7 availability, the Coast Guard does not need to be reorganised, but additional teams just can be added to the different island headquarters.
Richardson told The Daily Herald on Monday that St. Maarten did not have the budget to contribute. "We are dealing with difficult financial circumstances at the moment," he said. He stated that initiatives were ongoing to free up money for the Justice system.
"At this time, it is even difficult to afford people within the Justice system being promoted in rank, although we are still doing that," Richardson said.
"The Netherlands was determined to take on responsibility for the Coast Guard. They pushed this through. Now they should take responsibility to ensure the Coast Guard can function to the best of its ability.
"The Netherlands has said that the islands are not doing enough to combat serious crime, such as human trafficking and drugs trafficking. The Coast Guard has the capability to play a bigger role in tackling this type of crime, if only it is given the chance. The Netherlands should take that responsibility, or give it back."