Yesterday we told you that the Forward Operating Base (FOB) at the Sarstoon was deemed unsafe. That’s because the FOB had been compromised as confirmed this morning by the Belize Defence Force (BDF) in a press release. The situation got so dire that soldiers’ lives were at risk because the building’s structural integrity had diminished significantly since it was built in 2016. Rising sea waters and erosion are the main contributing factors to this existing problem. The Minister of State in the Ministry of National Defence and Border Security told Love News today that the land mass which is in front of the base has been significantly eroded by the strong tidal waves that are now threatening the integrity of the building, which might lead to a probable collapse. This situation made it unsafe for soldiers manning the base and as such the Ministry decided to temporarily relocate the soldiers from the Sarstoon to the Barranco Coast Guard base.
Oscar Mira, Minister of State in the Ministry of National Defence & Border Security: “I just want to make sure that the Belizeans understand that we have not withdrawn completely from their FOB. We do have presence there. The presence will remain until a team of engineers go down and they assess the situation and see how best we can fix the issue that we have with erosion in that area. As I noticed when I was there, the river and the sea is already under the building, and it’s unsafe. So, we decided to let them move to Barranco. We could do the patrols from Barranco. A presence is still at the FOB, but we will not have the soldiers risk their lives, because it’s unsafe. A team of engineers is coming down, and they will be assessing the situation and giving us recommendations as to how we can permanently address it. I believe that the situation got to this point, because of maintenance. Actually, the FOB was just left to deteriorate, and we cannot have that happen. We consider the safety of our soldiers to be priority, and in that case, now we are assessing this run. We’ll get the recommendations from the expert to see how we can address the situation. One of the biggest issues is the river and the strong current, and climate change on a whole. You know, that is what is eroding that area. In the years that have passed, some kind of mitigation process was done, but that was not enough. We have seen where now what used to be land is now under water, and so the recommendation will come. The experts are visiting today, and they will let us know what we need to do to ensure that the integrity of the building and the safety of our soldiers are kept.”
The Acting Chief of Staff of the BDF Lieutenant Colonel Jermaine Burns Love News that the safety of the troops was the main reason for the temporary relocation. Burns says that a team of engineers will be going to the base to conduct assessments and make recommendations for it to be rebuilt to withstand the effects of climate change.
Lt. Col. Jermaine Burns, Acting Chief of Staff, BDF: “The entire forward area of the building has been diminished over the years from erosion, and so you have water, sea water, reaching all the way under the building. And, when it gets really high, or when the tide goes high, the water goes all the way up to the level of the building itself, although it’s on stilts. So, the concern here is more environmental for the area that the building sits on than it is the structure. The building is literally leaning now, because the front most post are actually not firmly planted into the ground. Because there is actually no soil that exists there anymore. It’s been eroded. So, we had to come up with a plan, and the plan is to or remains to withdraw the men to Barranco. We’re going to be operating on a daily basis during the daylight hours from 6 AM to 6 PM at the FOB itself, Sarstoon. But we’ll be back-and-forthing in our vessels until we can come up with a permanent solution to the issue.”
As Burns explained, a joint patrol comprised of the Belize Coast Guard and Belize Defence Force will be conducting daily patrols to Maintain Military Presence at the Sarstoon FOB. Cabinet and the Ministry have deemed the Sarstoon FOB a strategic location that will not be abandoned, and the relocation is temporary while the repairs are done. As soon as the repairs conclude, the soldiers will move back and resume operations from the FOB.