Sailors, sports fishermen and pleasure boaters who cruise the seas surrounding the Dominican Republic can now do so with a feeling of safety and security. If a mishap arises, the impressively capable 220-member, 135-boat and eight-aircraft strong Dominican Republic Naval Auxiliary (Los Auxiliares Navales Dominicanos or AND) is standing-by.
The first steps to AND’s foundation started in 2008 when the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Auxiliary together with the UCGG’s Sector San Juan hosted a Caribbean Search & Rescue (SAR) Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The three-day meeting was attended by officials and volunteers from over twenty Caribbean island nations. One of those attendees was Capt. Edmundo FÃ©lix Pimentel, chief of logistics for the Dominican Republic’s Navy.
“We had lunch with Capt. Pimentel and he said the time was right to form a volunteer organization akin to the USCG Auxiliary in his country,” explains John Cooper, the Islamorada, Florida-based Caribbean Division Chief of the USCG Auxiliary’s International Affairs Directorate. “While the Dominican Republic doesn’t have a Coast Guard, its Navy is tasked with functions such as search and rescue. The idea of forming an organization such as AND was to train volunteers to assist in SAR activities, pollution control and recreational boater safety education in order to allow more time for the officials to perform tasks that only they could do such as law enforcement, drug and migrant interdiction and port security.”
The new organization was started in May 2009 by a group of successful Dominican businessmen led by Jose Antonio Najri and Dr. Freddy Reyes. Cooper, David Elliot, USCG Auxiliary Operations Response Department Chief, and the USGC’s District 7 CDR David Allen, were on hand as well as a contingent of Dominican Republic Navy officers and several prospective members. The US team was in Santo Domingo to conduct a Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) in order to assist the Dominicans in setting up AND. The objective was to give the Dominican Navy the benefit of the USCG Auxiliary’s 70 years of experience in operating a volunteer SAR organization. The Dominicans then modified the methodologies presented to meet their particular needs. Finally, on December 15 2009, Capt. Juan Carlos Porcella, AND’s executive director, announced the formal presentation of the new organization to the Dominican public as a result of the signing of the official formation decree by Dominican President, Dr. Leonel FernÃ¡ndez.
Twenty days later, on January 7 2010, AND was called upon for its first SAR mission.
“A boat with four persons on board sailed from Marina Zar-Par for sport fishing and they did not return,” Porcella tells. “We were notified by the Dominican Navy that night and we made a strategic plan with search boxes for the last probable known position. At that time we only had 22 members, however, we coordinated a massive SAR operation in our Advanced Command Post at Club Nautico de Santo Domingo. Three Dominican Navy vessels, a USCG C130, a MH-65 helicopter, about 17 civilian vessels and three aircraft (that later joined Auxiliares Navales Dominicanos) performed the SAR with coordination by the Dominican Navy and USCG. Unfortunately, we found two bodies four days after this incident. Both bodies were wearing life jackets, one was a female. Apparently they drowned due to the effects of hypothermia. After this incident, 147 auxiliarists applied to join our organization.”
Over the last two years, AND volunteers have participated in several training sessions. The first one was held by the USCG Training Team to teach the use of the Incident Command System (ICS-100 and 200). Other training focused on seamanship and navigation, SAR and basic maritime first aid. The result: over 35 lives have been saved.
For example, on November 13 2010, Capt. Elias Cruz, commander of AND’s North Region received a distress call from an American vessel. He immediately dispatched his vessel to the coordinates provided by the boat in distress. The three Americans on board this 60ft yacht were transporting medical and food relief to Haiti. Their distress call was due to engine failure and taking on water due to inoperative bilge pumps.
“Our plans for the future are to continue to receive training, promote safety and continue to grow,” says Porcella. “Since our island is in the middle of the Caribbean, our existence is very important for the safety of people at sea and our tourism industry.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.