Commodore denies tabloid reports of sloop collision


Tribune Staff Reporter

ROYAL Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel has vehemently denied a tabloid report that a Haitian sloop crashed into a RBDF ship last Friday.

He also dismissed the tabloid claim that over 100 illegal immigrants managed to escape ashore New Providence.

Commodore Bethel told The Tribune yesterday the only report of a Haitian sloop that was reported to the RBDF turned out to be a visiting yacht.

Commodore Bethel warned against the spread of "misinformation" and "exaggeration".

Yesterday, a local tabloid reported that early Friday morning a Haitian sloop crashed into a RBDF ship anchored near the Coral Harbour base. The paper alleged marines on duty were asleep, giving the immigrants time to wade to shore.

According to the tabloid, only 45 of the 150 Haitians aboard were caught. The others escaped into New Providence.

When asked about this claim, Commodore Bethel said: "(This is) my first-time hearing of that report. We've had no such report.

"We have had reports (Sunday) of the citing of a Haitian sloop off of New Providence. And after we investigated, it turned out to be some visitors sailing through our waters."

Commodore Bethel confirmed these visitors were not illegal immigrants. He said: "What happens is people, when they see these sails now, they get the impression that it's a Haitian sloop.

"And sometimes they're so difficult to distinguish. But when we investigated by use of our aircraft and our patrol craft, we found out that it was a visiting yacht. That's the only report that we've had."

In response to claims that approximately 105 Haitian immigrants escaped into New Providence, Commodore Bethel said: "Not at all (true). And I guess you probably have a lot of misinformation, a lot of exaggeration taking place as well."

Commodore Bethel made no connection between the tabloid report and the 25 Haitian nationals who were apprehended last Friday.

A RBDF press release said early Friday morning "police patrolling the Marshall Road area…discovered three undocumented Haitian nationals.

"They informed the (RBDF) marines stationed in southern New Providence who also combed the area, locating a wooden sailing sloop just after 4am.

"A subsequent search by officials from the defence force, police and immigration has resulted in the apprehension of 25 more Haitian nationals."

Last Friday, Commander Bethel also took part in his first Commander Defence Force's Divisions.

According to another RBDF press release, the ceremony "provided Commodore Bethel the opportunity to inform his officers and marines of his intent for the year, and to address challenges and concerns of the force with solutions to overcome them.

"The timely address came on the heels of three wooden Haitian sloops landing on the southern coast of New Providence over a three-month stretch."

It continued: "Notwithstanding these landings the defence force had apprehended or assisted with the apprehensions of some 1,300 migrants last year, including the disruption of a suspected international migrant smuggling operation two months ago, which resulted in the apprehension of 14 people from five nations aboard an unsuspecting motor yacht. The defence force also apprehended a Haitian sloop earlier this year."

The commodore also addressed the RBDF's plans for the future.

According to the press release: "During the sectioned meetings prior to his divisions, Commodore Bethel reminded members that the defence force was at a critical stage of transition where it recently entered a new era of modernisation to resolve problems of inadequate bases, port facilities, maritime assets (including ships and aircraft) and personnel, while simultaneously dealing with the constantly changing tactics of poachers, as well as migrant and drug smugglers."

This includes the expansion and construction of bases in Inagua and Ragged Island.

"Though limited in capacity, the (RBDF) has already began reconnaissance flight operations out of the southern Bahamas. The defence force is also moving forward with plans to enhance its communications, detection, tracking and interdiction capabilities. Initial work has commenced on the installation of a coastal radar system."

The RBDF added: "Additionally, plans are already underway for the acquisition of an island-wide 'Motorbro' radio communication system, along with an automated identification system for identifying vessels in Bahamian waters. These programmes are being funded by the US State Department under its Foreign Military Sales programme."