Earlier in the news, we told you what the Belize Coast Guard has been up to during the fight against COVID-19. As we noted, when it comes to protecting the country it is the BCG’s responsibility to secure our waters. Under the State of Emergency, however, they had been assigned other duties including the quarantining of Ambergris Caye when the first case was detected on the island. Commandant of the BCG, Captain Elton Bennett, spoke to Love News of that operation.
Cpt. Elton Bennett, Commander, Belize Coast Guard: “It was a large operation for us. We were required to deploy a squadron of vessels out to Ambergris Caye in order to prevent anyone from leaving or coming from Ambergris Caye. The first two cases out there but it was really the first test for government to see how well we can handle an outbreak of COVID-19 and I think we did well. Looking at the joint effort with the security forces, the Ministry of Health and the Port Authority and all the other government agencies and NEMO involved with the coordination I think we did very well in terms of dealing with that initial quarantine in Ambergris Caye and we were able to hold that outbreak in Ambergris Caye and prevent it from spreading to the mainland. Even before that the Coast Guard was involved with deterring the vessel from entering Ambergris Caye. If you would recall a week or so before that case we had a vessel coming from Chetumal, Mexico coming in to Ambergris Caye with some foreign nationals particularly some Italians and some French nationals onboard and the Coast Guard was able to get out there and hold the vessel and deter it back towards its last port of call which was in Chetumal. So our operation was prepared. We were actually prepared in terms of whenever it happens in Belize we were in the right locations along the border regions and were able to address any outbreak in Belize.”
Captain Bennett also explained other operations that the BCG have been doing to keep Belize safe and COVID-19 free.
Cpt. Elton Bennett, Commander, Belize Coast Guard: “Our operations really required us to first quarantine Ambergris Caye and then second to secure our maritime borders because once those borders were closed the Coast Guard was responsible to hold the maritime boundary. You know it’s a very active border between Belize and Mexico which is a lot of legal and illegal movement of mariners and passengers crossing Chetumal, Calderitas and those areas into Belize and back and forth and so securing that area was a challenge for us. We had to increase our numbers out there, increase our patrols and work along with the local community to ensure that we were able to secure that border and we’ll be doing this for a very long time, as long as there is a closure of our international borders in Belize we’ll be required to hold that maritime border. Likewise down in the south we have a presence down at Sarstoon and Barranco to ensure that there’s no cross border movement out at sea because at this stage where there are no new cases or there aren’t any cases in Belize the only threat to Belize would be someone coming across the border and we are fully abreast with what’s happening in Quintana Roo Mexico and the number of cases in Guatemala so that’s the major concern right now where there is a possibility of one of those individuals going across the border illegally more than likely and then bringing back that virus into Belize. So our main concern at this stage is to hold that border. Traditionally those areas along the border are very busy with people moving across legally and illegally I know the Defence Force who’s responsible for the riverine operations they have a large fleet as well and personnel all along that border to ensure they do the best to minimize or deter anyone from crossing that border. So the Defence Force is really responsible for the river the Belize Coast Guard is responsible for anything out at sea and then together we work in areas of Consejo, Sarstoon is a good example where we have a joint facility and they do the river and we go to sea so it’s really a joint effort in all aspects not only with the Belize Coast Guard and the Belize Defense Force and the police department and national security but working along with the Ministry of Health and even the Ministry of Foreign affairs because there’s a lot of foreign nationals that come to play in this operation. We had new deployments for example in Caye Caulker we never had a patrol station in Caye Caulker, we were required to get out there in Caye Caulker to again enforce the state of emergency in terms of supporting the village council and the police department in Caye Caulker to ensure that they adhere to the rules and regulations.”
To date, the Belize Coast Guard still maintains a presence on Caye Caulker.