KINGSTON, Jamaica - For 60 years, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard has been safeguarding the nation through the maintenance of law and order in Jamaica’s maritime space.
The organisation, which is the naval arm of the JDF, provides “military, maritime capabilities to deter, mitigate and defeat threats to Jamaica and its interests,” said Lieutenant Commander Leonard Wynter.
Among the missions executed by the Coast Guard in this regard are maritime law enforcement and maritime safety.
The maritime law-enforcement missions include fisheries protection, drug interdiction, and customs and immigration.
Lieutenant Wynter, who is the former acting commanding officer for the Coast Guard’s First District said the narcotics interdiction operations are sometimes undertaken in collaboration with the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Marine Police.
The Coast Guard is also charged with safeguarding Jamaica’s fisheries interests. The country has several fishing banks around the island, the largest of which is the Pedro Bank, which is rich in fisheries.
The Coast Guard is one of the agencies that acts on behalf of the Government to protect that resource, and to ensure that individuals from other countries are not poaching in Jamaican waters.
“There is fisheries protection. The JDF has long-range offshore patrol vessels, so we have that capability to patrol that area and whenever these illicit activities are taking place, we will interdict these persons and take them in front of the Court, through collaboration with the Marine Police,” Lieutenant Commander Wynter said.
Meanwhile, the maritime safety mission involves search and rescue, saving the lives of those in peril.
“For example, if a mariner is within Jamaica’s search and rescue region, the Coast Guard is the agency that is responsible for searching for and rescuing that missing mariner,” Lieutenant Commander Wynter said, noting that the Coast Guard rescued close to 3,000 people over one decade.
The safety role also includes ensuring that pleasure crafts are seaworthy and responding to oil spills in the maritime space.
“We are actually the on-scene commander in the event of oil spills or other hazardous substances in the Jamaican maritime space,” Lieutenant Commander Wynter noted.
Since its establishment in 1963, the Coast Guard has increased its numbers to meet growing demand.
It boasts two outfits – the First District JDF Coast Guard (the initial formation) and the Second District JDF Coast Guard, formed in 2001 – which have a cumulative complement of approximately 1,000 members.
The districts are charged with protecting the vast maritime space, estimated to be about 18 times the size of mainland Jamaica and broken down into zones. These are the territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone, the contiguous zone, and internal waters.
“The First District is responsible for the eastern half of Jamaica and the waters thereof. If you [think of] an imaginary line running through the centre of Jamaica, the First District is the one for the eastern side and the second district is for the western,” the Coast Guard explained.
“It is our mandate to enforce all the laws that each zone allows us to maintain, so we also have our search and rescue region that we are responsible for and these boundaries can take us up to over 200 nautical miles away from shore. So, we, at the First District can go that far to carry out the missions,” he noted.
The Coast Guard is also big on giving back to its community. As part of the 60th anniversary celebrations in August, the organisation staged displays and outreach activities where families of sailors, as well as the Port Royal community, were able to visit the base.
“We had an outreach programme at the Glenhope [Place of Safety]. We had activities at the Harbour View Primary School and at the Old Pera Primary School in St Thomas. We had a display at the Folly Point Oval in Portland, and activities at the Port Royal Post Office,” Lieutenant Commander Wynter said.
He said the Coast Guard is proud of its work over its 60 years of existence and continues to build on its legacy.
“We have accomplished a lot of things to include search and rescue, saving numerous lives. We are involved in numerous seizures of illicit items ranging from drugs, guns, illegal catches made by fisherfolk, and we have also improved our technology and vessels to assist us in achieving our missions. We proudly continue to serve our nation,” he said.