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Turks and Caicos Islands Has an Important Maritime Security Role in the Caribbean

Small nation uses sophisticated surveillance for safety, security and sovereignty

Caribbean nations must be vigilant to protect their citizens, secure their borders, and maintain sovereignty. Even small nations, however, can employ sophisticated technology to guard their marine borders. The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, situated southeast of the Bahamas and north of Haiti. The land area is about 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C, with a population of almost 50,000.

“One of the unique security aspects here is that the Turks and Caicos Islands do not have a navy or air force, so the police tend to be the lead agency for anything to do with the enforcement of our border,” says Colin Farquhar, commissioner of the Royal Turks & Caicos Islands Police Force.

“Our biggest concern is the interdiction of drugs, firearms, and people from the south, coming through Turks and Caicos and then trying to go onward to the U.S. or the Bahamas,” says Farquhar. “We look at our high risk areas and we prioritize. We put personnel where we need to.”

Cooperation and coordination are critical, Farquhar says. “We work hand-in-hand with immigration and with customs.”

“We have 40 islands and keys, and they’re all pretty small, so it’s challenging to manage all the borders in a really effective manner,” he says.

“Our biggest concern is the interdiction of drugs, firearms, and people from the south, coming through Turks and Caicos and then trying to go onward to the U.S. or the Bahamas,” says Farquhar. “We look at our high risk areas and we prioritize. We put personnel where we need to.”

There are environmental concerns, too. “We are a chain of islands with a huge coral area – the third largest barrier coral reef in the world,” he says.

“Three years ago, our style of patrolling or policing this area was different than it is now. The Ministry of Border Control and Labour commissioned a coastal radar station in September 2012,” Farquhar says.

Turks and Caicos Islands

The Caicos Islands, from an image from the International Space Station. NASA photo

The Terma SCANTER surface surveillance radar can see small targets even in bad weather and heavy seas.

“Now we have the ability to respond to targets of interest with a high degree of precision,” Farquhar says. “We’ve had to kind of re-look at what kind of vessels do we need in order to respond to targets of interest.”

Before the radar, Farquhar says the police force would send out one of their larger blue water vessels and wait. “We used to have a pretty good idea where the illegal migrants would come ashore. Our personnel would go there and wait and look for illegal vessels coming over. Now we can and rely on the coastal radar to assist us, and respond with a quick response vessel. Just having a boat waiting around French Key is a shot in the dark. They could easily avoid us by going east or west of our location.”

Turks and Caicos Islands Permanent Secretary for Border Control and Labour Clara Gardiner says the TCI coastal surveillance system is effective. “When the radar detects a target, the police can then go out quite quickly and investigate that target, and do whatever is necessary to bring in people safely to shore, as well as the vessel.”

Farquhar says the human traffickers sail in unseaworthy sloops that are very hard to find. They may carry from 20 people to as many as 120, all standing up for the most part, for the trip north. “So, we’re talking serious safety issues as well,” Farquhar says.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...