Sandy Bottom Project
Royal Bahamas Defence Force increases security with advanced fleet
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force, as part of its Sandy Bottom Project, is developing its fleet for increased national security. This has included the addition of nine Damen vessels – four Stan Patrol 4207 vessels, four Stan Patrol 3007 vessels and a RoRo 5612.
Captain Tellis Bethel explains that the specifics of the order were connected to the Bahamas’ geography.
“The Bahamas is located in what is effectively a maritime transit zone. Unfortunately, this leads to illicit activities, which directly affect our national security.”
He lists the type of threats presented, amongst which are drug trafficking, people trafficking, weapons smuggling and poaching.
Decentralised defence strategy
Defending 700 islands spread across 180,000 square miles of ocean is no mean feat. The Sandy Bottom Project envisages a programme of decentralisation to make this a reality.
“Currently we are operating primarily from Coral Harbour in Nassau,” Captain Bethel explains. “This is around 350 miles from our southernmost islands. Our intention is to establish local bases in the north, central and southern parts of the country, so we can protect the entire family of islands.”
Damen, on behalf of the Bahamian Government, has subcontracted Van Oord for major dredging operations that will serve to make the harbours used by the Defence Force accessible for all classes of patrol craft. Van Oord is moving and establishing coral reefs to ensure the project does not have a detrimental effect on the environment.
The Sandy Bottom project required the vessels to have the characteristics necessary for operations in the three different types of water found in the islands: coastal, ocean and shallow.
“The word Bahamas is from the Spanish Baja Mas,” states Captain Bethel. “It means ‘shallow waters’ and this was one of the key requirements for the patrol vessels – shallow draught capabilities to access these types of water.”
“Another consideration is that we sometimes have to transport 100-200 illegal immigrants at a time. And these vessels will be at sea for an average of 2-3 weeks so sea-keeping behaviour was very important.” This requirement is met by Damen’s SEA AXE bow, which provides superior motion behaviour and extreme comfort in a wide range of sea conditions.
The Defence Force wanted to maintain close involvement with the project throughout and Commander Warren Bain has been in the Netherlands from the start.
“Damen has been very willing to listen to what we’ve had to say and to share ideas,” he says.
“My being here has really helped speed up the process. I have been able to make decisions as things arise or communicate with people back in the Bahamas when necessary. To begin with, I even had a small team here with me with technical expertise, so we’ve been able to be involved in the entire process, to the smallest detail.”
This is, he says, a situation of mutual advantage, especially in the development of the new Spa 3007 vessel. “We benefitted and Damen benefitted. We have a lot of experience in tropical shallow waters and we’ve been able to share this with Damen’s engineers who have incorporated our suggestions into the designs. There are people who have looked at our vessels and who are saying ‘we want the same as they have’. We have improved the product.”
The RoRo 5612 is intended to help the Bahamas deal with natural disasters. “We are on the Hurricane Belt, so it is crucial we have this capacity,” states Captain Samuel Evans. “We work with the National Emergency Management Agency who have pre-deployed warehouses throughout the country. When we see a storm coming we can deploy the vessel to the relevant area and be able to provide medical care and food supplies to distressed communities.”
The vessel’s disaster package features such things as a field kitchen, emergency power generation capabilities and tools for carrying out repairs.
As well as new builds, the Sandy Bottom Project has also entailed Damen refitting two existing 60-metre Bahamas Class vessels. Damen’s scope has been to incorporate commonality with the new vessels and prepare the existing ones for patrol work in the ocean environment, freeing the new vessels for coastal patrol work.
“Damen has personnel on the ground to oversee this work. After the refit the vessels will be very similar to the 30 and 42-metre vessels – they will even have the same consoles as the 42-metre vessels. This means our personnel will be able to go from one vessel to another with complete familiarity,” says Captain Bethel.
The Sandy Bottom Project is going to have far-reaching effects in the Bahamas and not only in the field of maritime security. Captain Bethel points out that wider deployment of ships and personnel will have a positive economic impact throughout the islands. Additionally, employment opportunities will be significantly increased.
“The Defence Force has made a decision to grow its personnel from around 1,100 to 2,000 over the next 3 years,” he says. Amongst the main beneficiaries of this will be the islands’ youth. Lieutenant Delvonne Duncombe is Director of the Defence Force’s Ranger Youth Program. “As the organisation moves forwards, we will be able to give young people a birds-eye view of what the Defence Force does. And, with these new ships, we will be able to take them on-board and give them some real hands-on experience.”
Lieutenant Duncombe points out that the maritime industry as a whole operates on a significant scale nationally, but that very few people in the country are currently taking advantage of the employment opportunities it presents.
“This is a cultural awareness issue and its one of our jobs to expose young people to these opportunities. We want to prepare them with the minimum standards required to enter not just the Defence Force, but also the commercial maritime sector, or any agency in the Bahamas Government.”
The word is out…
Even prior to delivery of the full complement of vessels, the effects are being felt, Captain Evans says. “The word is out that the Defence Force has processed this vessel acquisition. Already we have had several successful apprehensions and can see that strategic deployment of these vessels is having the desired results.”