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Conference Targets Security in Caribbean 2011

The assurance of a safe climate for yachting in the Caribbean was the focus of the Sound Security Measures for the Yachting Community conference held at Yacht Haven Grande, in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands in January. In addition to the wealth of content covered during the two days of presentations, the conference was attended by a large cross-section of the region's marine community – everyone from private yacht captains and crews, to marina operators, shipping company owners, ferry staff, and representatives from islands such as Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Jamaica as well as the U.S. mainland.

The conference was more of an interactive working group session than simple dissemination of information to interested listeners. One way this proved evident was in the question and answer period following the presentation on Security Priorities for the Caribbean Basin by Everton Walters, the Barbados-based chairman of the Port Management Association of the Caribbean. Walters discussed the importance of island ports to the economic survival of the region, yet noted that a more streamlined approach to traveling from island to island was needed. This sentiment was echoed by the captain of the motor yacht Dream, who commented that private yachts want to do the 'right thing' when entering an island nation, yet what is 'right' is often confusing from one port to another and even within the same port from one office to another. To this end, Bert Fowles, Vice President of marketing for Island Global Yachting (IGY), acknowledged that it can take years to change laws and therefore suggested a set of best practices be created to share with island nations. These recommendations might include, for example, housing all customs and immigration facilities in one area or targeting a time of, say, 30 minutes for the completion of all paperwork for entry. After the lunch break Philip Murray, chairman of the Maritime Security Council, announced a task force had been initiated for the purpose of putting together these best practices.

One of the most controversial topics discussed was Weapons on Board – Benefits and Liabilities, by William Watson, deputy Commissioner of maritime affairs for the Marshall Islands. Watson noted that while commercial vessels stand up well to AK47 fire and rocket propelled grenades, pleasure yachts do not. This doesn't mean there's a need to carry a weapon on board. In fact, the captain of the 190-foot mega yacht Netanya 8, said that he didn't see the necessity of a gun in the Caribbean when the worst crimes were typically petty thefts of a dinghy or money. However, he said he hires a professional security crew when he is in a high risk area with a high profile guest. Watson spoke about other ways crews could deter potential attacks should they occur. These include acoustic devices that temporarily deafen, lasers intended to temporarily blind on-comers and firing flare guns at would-be villains. For those who insist on carrying a weapon, Watson recommended a pump-action 12-guage shotgun loaded with buck or bird shot. He also underscored how imperative it was for owners to have a designated and locked location to keep the weapon, learn the laws governing weapons on board for each jurisdiction yachts traveled, training all crew, having an original sales receipt to prove ownership, checking with insurance companies to make sure the presence of a firearm aboard doesn't lead to a void of the policy, and immediately declaring the weapon if boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The conference was held in partnership with IGY, the Homeland Security Institute and U.S. Coast Guard. Several Coast Guard personnel attended, including Rear-Admiral William Baumgartner, commander of the Seventh District, who spoke on the U.S. Coast Guard Small Vessel Security Program Objectives. This program addresses small vessels, under 500 gross tons, that are not covered by IPSP and which number in the thousands in the Caribbean. The program is a very integrated one, designed to interface with several agencies, and address threats ranging from waterborne explosives to smuggling of terrorists. Because of the many nationalities and miles of open ocean and borders, there is a real possibility for bad guys to make their way into the region. Everyone had heard the joke about not being surprised to find Bin Laden sitting under a coconut palm. Baumgartner ended his talk with a request for the yachting community to keep eyes and ears open and report suspect activities to local security and law enforcement professionals.

The conference also included a hands-on security exercise where participants were asked to use the information presented by the speakers to think outside the box and present suggestions and solutions for successfully preventing the posed risk. It was a great way to finish and make the event much more meaningful.

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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