Officers of Her Majesty’s Customs continue to further intensify protection of the sea borders of the British Virgin Islands amidst the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Officers of the Immigration Department have also teamed up with Customs Officers under the theme: “BVILOVE: Partnering and Protecting our Sea Borders in The New Regular.”
The joint team is utilising locally available resources to establish strategic platforms in the Territorial waters from which officers will be able to monitor vessels at sea and to rapidly deploy patrol vessels to intercept them, if necessary, on a 24-hour basis.
The initiative is being driven by newly-appointed Acting Commissioner of Customs, Mr. Wade Smith in collaboration with Acting Chief Immigration Officer, Mr. Ian Penn with the full support of the subject Ministers and the entire Government of the Virgin Islands.
HM Customs is under the Minister of Finance, Premier of the Virgin Islands Honourable Andrew A. Fahie, and Immigration Department is under Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, Honourable Vincent O. Wheatley.
According to Commissioner Smith, “Our sea borders must be further strengthened to prevent illegal entry of persons generally, and more specifically during this period of COVID-19, where there must be screening and monitoring of persons and other precautionary measures to prevent the importation and spread of the virus.”
Mr. Smith added, “It is customary that where it is necessary to procure equipment or services from the private sector, HM Customs does this from time to time. In this instance, the radar equipment and the vessels for this exercise are in the Territory, and we needed to move promptly to further tighten the sea borders.”
Premier and Minister of Finance Honourable Fahie visited Customs and Immigration officers early Sunday morning, 23 August, ahead of the mission to thank them for their dedication to duty. He also expressed thanks on behalf of the Minister for Immigration.
The Minister of Finance explained that officers of Customs and Immigration will be working from these marine platforms in shifts so that there will be a more intense 24-hour surveillance of the sea borders.
The platforms will also be a launching point for patrol and interceptor vessels, which will be able to quickly intercept any suspicious vessels in the Territorial waters.
Premier and Minister of Finance said, “It is a lot to ask of the team because these shifts will be long hours on the sea, but our officers have expressed their commitment, and we are grateful to them and their families for what they are doing to help keep everyone safe.”
He added, “Together, we prayed for God’s protection, and that He be the GPS as they navigate our Territory safely through these challenging times being faced on the sea. Together, we have agreed to continue to depend on the God of our forefathers to see us through.”
Honourable Fahie added in light of recent new COVID-19 cases being discovered in the Territory; it is necessary to ensure that no one is able to bypass the screening and precautionary protocols that are in place for persons entering the BVI.
“We recognise that in further strengthening our sea border security, we must close any foreseeable gap that would allow the illegal entry of persons to our shores. We have been able to move swiftly because the resources required are available locally and there is a need for them at this time. I have always maintained that everything we need to protect our people and country is available right within our borders,” the Premier and Minister of Finance said.
He added, “There is a cost to deploy these assets, and the suppliers of the equipment and vessels have provided the most competitive offer to the Government inclusive of safety, equipment, security, and suitable working environment for our officers.”
According to Honourable Fahie, the Government of the Virgin Islands is putting measures in place to further strengthen the monitoring and protection of the BVI’s sea borders.
The Government is also working towards establishing a permanent network of radars that will enhance border protection and assist the authorities in clamping down on human trafficking, drug smuggling, and other illegal activities.
The Government of the Virgin Islands has zero tolerance for these nefarious activities.
The Premier added that he has been in communication with the Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, Albert Bryan Jr., who has confirmed his willingness to increase cross-border protection and has immediately engaged his team to ensure collaboration and coordination of efforts to curb any illegal activities along the shared borders.
Honourable Fahie said that since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020, Government has been forced to make tough decisions that affect citizens’ ability to move about and to transact and operate businesses, as well as Government’s spending priorities.
“In making these tough decisions, we are being guided by the provisions of the Public Health Ordinance, the Quarantine Act and the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act, all of which are designed to treat circumstances such as these, and which prescribes measures that should be taken whenever there is the risk of an outbreak of disease,” he explained.
He said that the Government’s priority is the health and safety of the people of the Virgin Islands first.
He explained, “In the end, we had to make the choices that we did as a Government because to do otherwise would have cost lives, or it would have resulted in more extensive, long-term, and more serious damage to the local economy. We have to take these steps because we want to avoid going into another shutdown of the Territory. That is why we have to go the route that we are going, while reminding the public that their support and cooperation is essential to prevent or avoid another lock down of the Territory. Whatever has to be done in the best interest of the health and safety of the people of the Virgin Islands will be done.”
As a reminder, there is currently a restriction on the movement of vessels within the Territorial waters except for approved fisherfolk and intra-island ferries (apart from those travelling to/from Anegada). Persons are encouraged to call 311 immediately to report any suspicious illegal activities.
Premier and Minister of Finance has commended the Joint Task Force that was approved for the COVID-19 era for their dedication in keeping the BVI safe. The task force is a collaboration of officers from the Immigration Department, HM Customs and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. The Government of the Virgin Islands pledges it continued support to all of the three law enforcement agencies.
“People of the Virgin Islands, we must remain vigilant. We must obey the protocols that are in place to keep us all safe. We must keep our guards up. We are not playing around with COVID-19 because COVID-19 is not playing around with us. We are not playing around with illegal activities because safety is our priority,” Premier and Minister of Finance said.
Additionally, persons are reminded that the Territory is currently in Phase I of the Protocols for the Controlled re-entry of persons (Virgin Islanders, Belongers, Permanent Residents and Naturalised Citizens) via the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.
If you or someone you know believes that you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, do not go to any health institution. Contact the medical hotline at 852-7650. This is important to ensure that you get the appropriate treatment and to protect those around you, such as family members and the medical personnel.
“These are trying times in the world, and the BVI is not immune. But, through BVILOVE we will safely get through this,” the Minister of Finance said.
Persons must continue to wear a face mask or shield, sanitise hands frequently, and practice social distancing, among the other protocols, because this is the only way to reduce the virus spreading from person to person.
Photo caption – Premier and Minister of Finance, Honourable Andrew A. Fahie HM Customs and Immigration Officers met as the BVI Government further tightens its sea borders.