CORAL HARBOUR, Bahamas (RBDF) — The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) escorted 124 fishermen from three Dominican Republic “motherships” to Nassau after being apprehended in Cuban waters by the Cuban Border Patrol for poaching in Bahamian waters. The apprehension was the result of a collaborative effort by the RBDF with the US Coast Guard and the Cuban Border Patrol over the past several days.
The USCG cutter Vigilant, with a Defence Force ship-rider on board, reported the sighting of a fishing vessel from the Dominican Republic north of Haiti on October 10. The Dominicans aboard the vessel indicated that they were en route to The Bahamas.
The Defence Force was subsequently notified and HMBS Madeira was directed to intercept the Dominican vessel in the event it entered Bahamian waters.
HMBS Madeira later sighted the three vessels at daybreak on Saturday October 13 with skiffs in the water near Cay Lobos – a small cay on the southern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, 12 nautical miles north of central Cuba. Madeira deployed its seaboat with a boarding team to apprehend the motherships before they entered Cuban waters.
The Dominican vessels opened fire on the approaching boarding team while fleeing into Cuban waters. Madeira’s boarding party returned fire in self-defence. One of the three steel-hulled vessels ran aground in Cuban waters while trying to escape. None of the Defence Force boarding team members were injured during the incident.
The Defence Force immediately alerted the Cuban Border Patrol to the incident and informed The Bahamas ministry of foreign affairs, which sought the assistance of the Cuban government in apprehending the vessels. As a result, the Cuban Border Patrol apprehended the three vessels with 124 crewmembers on Saturday and turned them over to Madeira and HMBS Durward Knowles on Sunday morning.
HMBS Durward Knowles was also on patrol in the southeastern Bahamas investigating a separate report of a suspicious vessel in the area.
This is the second Dominican poaching incident for the year in which HMBS Madeira has been involved. On July 8, Madeira apprehended a Dominican fishing vessel attempting to flee into Cuban waters. The captain and 46 crewmembers were subsequently fined $53,000 each, totaling more than $2.3 million.
Additionally, the captain of the vessel, Radhames Hernandez, was convicted and sentenced to 18 months at The Bahamas Department of Corrections (BDOCS).
Coincidentally, HMBS Madeira, was rammed in November 2016 in a failed attempt by one of two vessels that was captured in adverse weather conditions in the Old Bahama Channel. During the incident, Madeira incurred structural damage, and one crewmember was injured. The vessel was repaired in February at a cost of approximately $250,000.
The two captains and 50 crewmembers involved were arrested and fined $50,000 and $20,000 respectively, for an approximate total of $1.4 million in fines, and were sentenced to six months for first offenders and one year for second offenders at the BDOCS. The captain of the vessel that rammed Madeira was sentenced to serve 16 months at BDOCS.
The Defence Force commander, Commodore Tellis Bethel, expressed much appreciation for the assistance provided by the Cuban Border Patrol and the prompt response of the Cuban Embassy in Nassau in coordinating the apprehension and turning over of the Dominican poachers to the Defence Force.
In May of this year, Defence Force and Cuban Border Patrol officials met in Cuba and discussed how their units could enhance their collaborative law enforcement efforts during the fifth round of talks on migration between The Bahamas and Cuba. Not long thereafter, the Cuban Border Patrol apprehended ten Dominicans who fled into Cuban waters after HMBS Durward Knowles captured their mothership in the southern Bahamas.
Bethel also expressed gratitude for the assistance received from USCG District 7, which has responsibility for maritime operations in the Caribbean region. The initial action taken by the Commanding Officer and crewmembers of USCGC Vigilant in confirming the vessels’ destination, and informing the Defence Force of the same resulted in a chain reaction that ultimately led to the apprehension of the poachers.
In July of this year, such collaborative efforts between the Defence Force and the US Coast Guard culminated in a double apprehension of two Haitian sloops in the southeastern Bahamas with 162 migrants on board.
The efforts of Madeira’s commanding officer, Senior Lieutenant William Sturrup, his officers and crewmembers, who have risked their lives on more than one occasion in stopping the scourge of foreign poaching in Bahamian waters were commended by Bethel.
“Their commitment, hard work and willingness to go beyond the call of duty is an inspiration to us all,” Bethel said.
For the year, the RBDF has apprehended two Dominican vessels, netting over 50 Dominican poachers and 42,000 pounds of fisheries products, thus far. Fisheries products aboard the three recently apprehended vessels are currently being assessed.
The three vessels and 124 crewmembers will be transported to Nassau and handed over to officials at the Marine Resources Unit, the Bahamas Immigration Department and the Royal Bahamas Police Force for further processing.