Valerie Dixon, Gleaner Writer
THE JAMAICA Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard celebrates its Golden Jubilee this month.
The Coast Guard unit was formed in August 1963, one year after Jamaica gained her Independence.
The unit was called the Sea Squadron, and then in 1966 the name was changed to the JDF. It's formative years were influenced by a small staff from the Royal Navy and, today, this influence can still be seen in the Coast Guards' naval customs, ceremonials and uniform pattern.
In 1962 Jamaica had an established Infantry Battalion (soldiers who fight on foot) a Support Battalion and an Air Wing. However, being an island state, it was felt that maritime security was a necessity in order to monitor our territorial waters.
Commander David Chin-Fong is in charge of the Coast Guard. In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner he stated that the JDF Coast Guard is Jamaica's primary maritime law enforcement and response agency. Its main missions are maritime law enforcement, which combats the trafficking of illicit narcotics, arms and ammunition; human trafficking; illegal immigration; and illegal fishing called poaching.
Chin-Fong also stated that the Coast Guard was responsible for maritime safety in the areas of search and rescue - especially for folks who fish on the cays that are offshore Jamaica; environmental protection such as oil-spill recovery, clean-up and investigation; as well as vessel inspections for safety. The unit is also involved in disaster relief and giving waterside security and protection for foreign vessels when they are in our ports. He added that the Coast Guard assists the other operational elements of the JDF by providing maritime support and is present for ceremonial duties.
The Coast Guard has a very large maritime area of jurisdiction, covering approximately 85,000 square nautical miles, or an area that is 25 times larger than the size of Jamaica. The unit has deployed its vessels and crews overseas on numerous occasions on disaster-relief missions, as in 2010, when it was deployed to Haiti to assist in recovery efforts after their dreadful and devastating earth quake.
combating trans-national crimes
The JDF Coast Guard works very closely with other countries in the region in combating trans-national crimes. Some of these partners include the US Coast Guard and Navy, the Cuban Border Guards and the Royal Navy. Official agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) are also in place that guide the sharing of information and other operational procedures.
Since its formation in 1963, the Coast Guard has developed into a unit of several hundred persons spread across Jamaica, operating one of the most modern seagoing fleets in the region. Its main base is at HMJS Cagway in Port Royal, with outstations located in Discovery Bay, Pedro Cays, Port Morant, Black River and Port Antonio.
The latest development is the establishment and opening of the Caribbean Military Maritime Centre of Excellence at the unit's main base in June 2012. It is a partnership between Jamaica and Canada and it provides world-class maritime law-enforcement training not only to members of the unit, but to other regional forces and services as well.
Persons interested in joining the JDF Coast Guard must fulfill the same entry requirements to be a member of the JDF. However, for persons who want to be a part of the Coast Guard, greater consideration will be given to those who already have seagoing experience or who may have a marine engineering background and are strong swimmers.