Rotarians and guests of the five clubs on the island came together yesterday – Thursday, August 15 – at the Ruby Swiss Restaurant for a special meeting, where they heard the role and responsibilities of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) in the Bahamian waters.
RBDF Lieutenant Commander Clint Johnson, who was the guest speaker, also shared on the history and the revitalization of the Force’s decentralizing operation.
Johnson noted that while the decentralizing process is not new, there has been a regional command with an effort of setting up sub-bases throughout The Bahamas.
“The decentralizing process was something that started a while ago. It is still in its infancy stages, but because you have 700 islands and you have them spread over 100,000 square miles of ocean, the process has been split up into Northern Command, Central Command and Southern Command.
“The Northern Command encompasses Freeport, Bimini, The Berry Islands and the Abacos and that within itself is the largest out of the three commands because of the size of the islands, the composition of the islands and basically the culture of those islands.
“Bimini and Abaco are known as very big boating islands and that is where you have a lot of traffic when it comes to maritime movement.
“But because of the proximity of Freeport and Bimini to the United States, it is one of those gateways where people usually try to utilize Bimini as well as Freeport, as a stepping-stone to try and get into the United States for whatever reason or for smuggling goods.
“The Northern Bahamas or the Northern Command as we put it, those islands that are encompassed in it is a constant battle and a very large area,” Johnson explained.
He said the Island of Freeport has a large network of waterways and those waterways lead to people’s home and directly out to the ocean.
Johnson noted that disappointedly, persons are not equipping themselves with the necessary gear when sailing out at sea.
“You have locals who are engaged in fishing in and outside of seasons. There are persons who go out there constantly; there is search and rescue situations that arise all the time because as boaters, we are so used to going out at sea and assuming nothing will go wrong.
“Many times, you will find during the summer time or even certain times when it is hectic for boating; you will find a lot persons who go out there and they don’t carry the proper life vests. Their boats are not properly equipped, you find officers going out there trying to find those persons and it is not that easy, when you look at the amount of ocean that you have to cover.
“In addition, we have the same recurrent problems where you have persons trying to use the islands as a stepping-stone to transit. You have illegal nationals trying to transit through Freeport, through Bimini to get their way into the states.
“You also have persons trying to transit from the States to avoid either criminal offenses or legalities that they may be facing at home,” said Johnson.
Asked about the role society can play in assisting the Force with the challenges, he replied, “Bahamians are to speak up and tell the honest truth.
“I think it is a culture that we have, because even if you look at The Bahamas historically, from the time that The Bahamas was discovered to now any and anything illegal that happens in the States, usually comes through The Bahamas and that is the bottom line.
“The composition of The Bahamas, when you look at the 700 islands, rocks and cays … the reason why The Bahamas was a prime target or a choice for pirates and others back in the day, is the same reason why it is still a prime choice for the criminals today.
“You have so many uninhabited islands,” he added.
“If you get into The Bahamas, there is always a possibility to hide whatever it is that you need to hide. Stash whatever you need to stash whether it be contraband or human cargo, you can do that and you can move with anonymity throughout these islands.
“So, to lock down those borders is a challenge within itself. Along the same line when it comes to the movement of drugs or illegal firearms, I don’t care if we hire 100 Defense Force officers, 100 Police Force officers, Customs officers, every month, it is not going to stem the problem.
“It has to be a community initiative, because The Bahamas is small and most people know what is going on at any given time. If everybody doesn’t know, somebody knows, because everyone is related and they live in close proximity. They see things going on, but because it doesn’t affect them directly, they don’t basically interfere with the situation.
“But when you look at it from a national standpoint, it may not affect you directly but it will affect you in the long run,” said Johnson.