Former police superintendent Robert Scotland has been recruited to head up the new Cayman Islands Coast Guard unit, a 42-strong force that will be the island’s first line of defense against drug and gun smugglers.
Once fully staffed, the coast guard will patrol Cayman’s waters round-the-clock and will take over responsibility for search-and-rescue missions, according to both Premier Alden McLaughlin and Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne.
The appointment of Mr. Scotland as commander and of Leo Anglin, a former police inspector who previously led the Joint Marine Unit, as his deputy are the first concrete steps toward the creation of the Cayman Islands Coast Guard. They will take up their posts in October and a recruitment drive is expected to begin next year.
The coast guard unit will come under the direction of Commissioner Byrne but will be an independent entity with a ring-fenced budget and personnel, the premier indicated.
It will ultimately take over the responsibilities of the Joint Marine Unit, which currently has 14 staff, though a transitional period is expected before it becomes fully operational.
Mr. Byrne said the coast guard would provide 24-hour response capability on all three islands year-round.
“Our main focus is on criminal interdiction in territorial waters. That means firearms, drugs, illegal immigration, the huge and significantly important issue of search and rescue and marine enforcement,” he said.
He added that the coast guard would also be tasked with keeping the peace on the waters. The commissioner highlighted recent complaints of reckless jet ski riders impacting snorkelers and divers as one area the coast guard crews could deal with.
“It is a very wide brief for the new coast guard command,” he said, “and there is a lot of work to be done.”
He said the first year would likely be dominated by strategic planning, recruitment, training and reviewing assets. The marine unit currently has two main boats in service, the Defender and the Guardian, both of which were recently refurbished at significant expense. It also has three smaller, rigid hull inflatable craft and two jet skis.
Premier McLaughlin acknowledged significant investment would be required to equip the new coast guard with the tools it needs to do the job.
He said, “This is going to take a number of years to get us to the kind of coast guard which Cayman needs. We are not going to try to go from where we are now at warp speed in six months.
“It is going to require significant investment in assets to give us the capability we need to protect our borders.”
Details of the budget of the new coast guard were vague. Mr. McLaughlin said some funds had been allocated in the two-year budget for 2017/18 but he declined to discuss long-term costs at this stage. He said his government had long identified the need for a coast guard unit in Cayman and had campaigned on the issue in the run-up to the 2017 election. He said it had been on the party’s agenda as early as 2013.
The case of five missing boaters, including two children, who were lost at sea in 2016, put new focus on Cayman’s marine resources and prompted inquiries both into that incident and the general search-and-rescue capability on the island.
Following the publication of those inquiry reports, Cayman obtained the services of Phil Bostock, a commander with the U.K.’s coast guard agency, to help develop the Cayman Islands Coast Guard. The U.K. and potentially U.S. coast guard agencies are expected to assist with planning and training of the new unit.
While some of the staff for Cayman’s coast guard are likely to come from the existing police marine unit, Mr. Byrne said there would be opportunities for new personnel with different skill sets.
“It’s a different set of skills to police officers,” he said. “That is why it is a ring-fenced budget, a ring-fenced entity working as coast guard.”
Mr. Anglin, the lieutenant commander of the new coast guard unit, said he was elated to be part of developing better border protection and search-and-rescue capability on the island.
Having been part of the previous marine unit, which operated with depleted resources, he said he was pleased to see a commitment of investment to staff and equipment.
“Those times operating with 14 people were very challenging,” he said. “Given the new commitment of 40 personnel, that makes my job a little bit easier. I can focus on the key areas with border protection. I can treat my staff better and make sure they are equipped to take the task in hand.”