President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Patrick West; Heads of the Disciplined Services, Inspector General Colonel Nazrul Hussain; Commandant of the Guyana People’s Militia Colonel Beaton; United States of America Military Liaison Officer; Officers; ranks; ladies and gentlemen:
It’s always a pleasant responsibility of mines to return to this base which very happily has been named after Harry B. Hinds, a colleague of mine who 51 years ago was at the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, Hampshire, with me and whose service to the Guyana Defence Force and to the Coast Guard in particularly would remain indelible.
I was very happy that this base was named for him. I think persons present like Commander Adams and others would know the amount of work that was put in by him and the teams here in the Coast Guard to transform what used to be called a ramp into a maritime base.
I’m also happy to be here because the ceremony this morning marks an advance in a very important sector of Guyana’s security. You’ve heard the saying eternal vigilance is the price of liberty but we in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana might well say that eternal vigilance is the price of security of our nation. We can never fall asleep on security. We could never fall asleep on security and we could never default on our duty to this nation.
Guyana, in recognition of the need for eternal vigilance, established the Guyana Defence Force in 1965 on our approach to national independence in 1966. The Coast Guard was established also in pursuit of that need for eternal vigilance. Guyana, a small state on the continent of South America, one of the smallest states on the continent, has long land frontiers with its neighbours, with Brazil, with Venezuela and with Suriname. We have a 459 kilometre coastland with the Atlantic Ocean.
The protection of the Guyanese people, the preservation of peace and the maintenance of our territorial integrity- both on land and at sea – are the State’s most important responsibilities. Guyana is called the land of waters on account of its many rivers; about a dozen rivers or more flow from the highlands in the west and in the south to the lowlands in the north and into the Atlantic Ocean.
These rivers, the giant Essequibo which is more than a thousand kilometres long and is fed by many tributaries; the Berbice River, 595 kilometres; the Demerara River, the smallest of the three sisters, 346 kilometres; and so many other rivers, the Abary, the Barima, Boerasirie, the Mahaica, the Mahaicony, the Moruca, Pomeroon, the Waini, in addition to our vast Exclusive Economic Zone constitutes major riverine and maritime responsibility of the State.
The protection of Guyana’s coast, of its rivers and its territorial waters, is a vital function of national security. It is for this reason that Guyana enacted the Maritime Boundaries Act in 1977. That Act determined the sovereignty of our state and that sovereignty is always extended to our territorial sea and to the seabed and subsoil underlying the airspace over such sea. Guyana asserted that it has always had full and exclusive sovereign rights in respect to its continental shelf. The President made an Order, Order No. 19 1991, under the Act declaring the specific area of the Exclusive Economic Zone.
That Act established a fishery zone beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea with an outward limit of 200 miles from the baseline of the territorial sea; this area coincided with that of the Exclusive Economic Zone and served to ensure Guyana’s sovereignty over its living marine resources. Guyana also enacted the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act of 1986; thirty-one years ago. Licences have been issued under the act from time to time, enabling foreign companies to conduct exploration activities, activities which are still taking place today. All the areas in which foreign companies are granted licenses to conduct exploration are located in Guyana’s waters. Bilateral fishing agreements, allowing foreign investors to fish in Guyana’s waters, have also been made in accordance with the laws of Guyana.
Guyana’s National Assembly enacted legislation and the Government of Guyana made regulations which were enforced through the courts and by various enforcement arms of the state. Sovereignty and jurisdiction therefore were exercised openly and continuously by these executive actions by the State of Guyana.
The National Assembly later unanimously approved the resolution on the 10th of November 1993 which endorsed Guyana’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its deposit of the 60th Instrument of Ratification on the 16th of November 1993 enabling the convention to enter into force a year later.
This is an important legal background to our presence here today. This is the foundation on which the Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard was established and specifically mandated to enforce the provision of our laws relating to the regulation of our rivers, our harbours and our ports.
The Coast Guard, therefore, is one of the most important arms of the GDF and of the State, in accordance with the Defence Act. The Coast Guard is employed as a coast watching force, maintaining a state of readiness to function as a specialised service enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of all applicable laws on and under the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of Guyana.
The Coast Guard is concerned with ensuring compliance with Guyana’s quarantine, immigration and fisheries laws. It is required also to enforce the laws relating to Guyana’s territorial sea, continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone. These are heavy burdens but we are confident that the Coast Guard has the will and we will provide it with the assets to remain in the forefront with efforts to suppress the illegal activities on our rivers and in our maritime waters.
It will receive and continue to receive the support of the Government to suppress all illegal activities including poaching, fuel smuggling and piracy. It will receive our support to suppress and prevent narcotics trafficking and all other forms of maritime illegality and in this regard I congratulate the Coast Guard for its success.
The protection of Guyana’s territorial waters is vital for the protection of our marine assets for the prevention of transnational crime and for the promotion of international and coastal trade. The Coast Guard must ensure that our territorial waters are kept secure. Our Exclusive Economic Zone is the next new frontier of our economic development, development which is taking place to benefit our citizens and for generations to come.
Petroleum exploration is now taking place apace in Guyana’s offshore waters. A number of foreign companies are engaged in that sector. Guyana’s maritime resources include our fisheries. The Coast Guard must be strengthened, provide greater security to investors in petroleum, in fishing and other maritime activities. Guyana must continue to ensure the safety of its sea lanes so that ships can enjoy safe passage within and through our waters.
International trade just like petroleum exploration is a driver of economic development. Guyana being an export oriented country has to ensure that our sea lanes are secure. The reputation of our shipping industry has been threatened by the abuse of our waters for the trans-shipment of narcotics and the smuggling of contraband. These activities deprive our country of revenue and ruin our reputation as a safe destination for foreign investors. They distort the economy; they spawn violence and other forms of criminality.
Our territorial waters are extensive. It is easy for vessels to unlawfully discharge and tranship contraband goods. It therefore means that the Coast Guard must be equipped to confront and eliminate illegal activities in our waters. The Coast Guard must therefore have the capability to respond to emergencies within our waters, including the responsibility to conduct search and rescue missions at sea. The Coast Guard must be able to enforce the laws relating to safe navigation at sea and in our rivers.
The Coast Guard therefore needs a stronger and larger fleet of vessels but we can do only what we can afford. We need surveillance equipment; we need larger and faster vessels. I’d like to assure the Chief of Staff and the Commander of the Coast Guard that the Defence Board and the Government of Guyana will do everything that is possible within the limit of our resources to ensure that assets are provided to enable the recapitalisation and strength of the Coast Guard in order that it can effectively discharge its functions.
We therefore welcome the contributions which have been made so far in the past by friendly states to boost our maritime capability and we will continue not only to seek external assistance but to engage in bilateral relations with friendly states to ensure the safety of our nation.
We accept that the government has the primary responsibility to equip and outfit the Coast Guard. We have an obligation to ensure the Coast Guard is provided with the resources it needs to protect our rivers, our waters and our territorial resources.
The two vessels that we are commissioning today are essential for national security. They are intended to improve the capability of the state to protect its resources. These vessels represent an investment in safety and security. They are intended to provide greater assurance to our citizens, to our fisher folk, to our investors. They are intended to safeguard our coast, our rivers, our sea lanes and our maritime resources. I therefore urge the Coast Guard to take good care of these vessels, including the propellers, and to ensure that they are used for the security of our nation for generations to come.
I thank you and may God bless you all.