New surveillance plane ready to stem guns and drug trafficking
Guns, drugs smugglers and illegal fishermen, no longer have a free ride operating in Jamaica's territorial waters, now that the island has its own maritime patrol aircraft, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said.
The Jamaica Defence Force Air Wing commissioned the KingAir 350 Extended Range aircraft on Wednesday, along with two Bell 429 Helicopters, paid for with taxpayers' money. They also acquired a brand new hangar, within which the helicopters and plane will be housed.
The country has been hearing of plans to buy an aircraft during Robert Montague's tenure as national security minister. Now the country has joined the ranks of others in the region with capabilities of the KingAir, which costs roughly US$24 million.
With the acquisition, Jamaica's role within the region has increased significantly and will foster greater cooperation between the island and the United States of America as well as better information sharing with other islands.
"Much of our crime is caused by accessibility to illegal weapons. What we are doing here today (Wednesday) is ensuring we make the investment not because it sounds great, but because it is an investment towards security and the economy. Jamaica has a regional role and intends to cooperate and collaborate with traditional partners. These assets give us capabilities to respond to natural disasters also," the Prime Minister said.
Holness pointed to the timeliness of the acquisition, highlighting that the threats of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons, illegal drugs, the smuggling of people and the illegal dumping of pollutants in the sea make the need for the plane and choppers imminent.
"Enhanced maritime security significantly contributes to improved socioeconomic development. These criminals are not street level. They plan and they have global links. Their main interest is the weakening of the state by corrupting officials or depriving the state of resources. This Government will not allow that to happen to Jamaica," Holness declared.
He warned those who would be using the plane and helicopters, to ensure that the resources were not used to violate the rights of citizens.
New aircraft will spot targets in distant seas
Tim Owings, executive vice-president of the US-based Sierra Nevada Corporation that supplied the KingAir 350 Extended Range aircraft to Jamaica, has said that the local authorities would now have the capacity to effectively patrol the island's territorial waters.
"Generally speaking, if there is anything moving, they are going to know about it. We use the exact same systems to protect the borders of the United States of America and we provide them to other countries as well. If something is moving in the sea, that is not normal shipping behaviour, they are going to be able to find it.
"What this aircraft is capable of doing is see far off into distant seas, picking up vessels and everything else like submarines or anything submersible. What the plane will do is quickly digest information and indicate when activities don't look like normal shipping activity and they will zoom in for further surveillance with a very high-fidelity camera system," he told The Gleaner.
In the meantime, Lieutenant General, Michael Plehm, military deputy commander from the United States South Command, told The Gleaner that, "we are proud to announce that two weeks ago, we set up a technical analysis team at the US embassy, which will support regional operations against illicit trafficking".