Marine coastal patrols in the Cayman Islands are “hugely under-resourced,” Premier Alden McLaughlin acknowledged to lawmakers this week following questioning in the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee.
“It is going to take a significant number of years and many millions of dollars to say we have a truly effective coast guard,” the premier said in response to questions about marine and aerial patrols from opposition party members.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller pointed out that government budgets were projecting an average time for air patrols done by the Royal Cayman Islands Police helicopter at one hour per day.
Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said that time would obviously vary based on need, but that one hour would be the cumulative per day average.
“Some days it’ll be more, some days less,” Mr. Byrne said.
Mr. Miller also seemed incredulous when noting marine patrols would average three and a half-hours per day.
“We know contraband is coming in by sea,” Mr. Miller said.
Finance Committee members also heard of more than 300 arrests being made in relation to individuals who had overstayed their permissions to remain in Cayman and of more than $2 million planned to be spent next year to house illegal migrants who inadvertently land in the territory.
“Do we have sufficient resources to parol this country or not?” East End MLA Arden McLean asked.
“We know that this is hugely under-resourced,” the premier said.
At the moment, the Joint Marine Unit of the RCIPS, HM Customs and the Department of Environment maintain a handful of boats, as well as some jet ski craft that operate out of the central marine base in Newlands.
The government budgets for the next three years contain a total of $3.5 million for “coastal patrols” to beef up those operations, Mr. McLaughlin said. However, just $500,000 of that is earmarked for the upcoming 2018 spending plan.
“We’re just at the start of this exercise,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “This is a relatively new initiative, but there is significant provisions in the new budget for the establishment of a proper border control unit.”
However, Mr. McLaughlin cautioned that even if government accomplishes all it desires within the next three budgets, lawmakers and the general public should not expect to see around-the-clock sea and air patrols. Technology and police intelligence would have to help guide the marine and air resources available, he said.
Cayman may also receive some assistance in the task from the United Kingdom.
A year ago, then-U.K. Overseas Territories Minister, Baroness Joyce Anelay, announced that an overarching review of Cayman’s search-and-rescue marine response capability would be done as part of a wider research project for the British Overseas Territories.
“This research project is to look strategically at how best to deploy resources that exist and to see where there are gaps in resources,” the Baroness said.