Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Chinese vessels absurd, says Imbert

“THE height of absurdity”.

This is how Opposition Member of Parliament Colm Imbert has described the announcement made by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday that she is seeking to purchase a long-range vessel (LRV) from China for this country’s Coast Guard.

In 2007, the previous People’s National Movement (PNM) administration, of which Imbert was a Cabinet mem­ber, signed a £150 million contract with a company called VT Shipbuilding to build and commission vessels to patrol local waters and provide naval protection and surveillance. 

British defence manufacturer BAE Systems eventually acquired VT Shipbuilding in 2009. 

In 2010, months after assuming office, the People’s Partnership Government cancelled the contract because it said the vessels were not built according to specifications.

In a release form the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday, it was stated Persad-Bissessar said she was aware China was building two LRVs and “pleaded” and “convinced” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to sell her one.

Persad-Bissessar told Li Keqiang the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard “needed the two vessels to lock down this country’s borders, in light of the increase in arms and narco trafficking”.

“The long-range vessel is more or less the same as an offshore patrol vessel, just different terminologies, but it is the same thing because you have vessels that operate in shore and you have vessels that operate offshore,” Imbert said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“The long-range vessel that is being made in China is very similar to the offshore patrol vessels that was being manufactured by BAE, so it is more or less the same boat, and that is the irony of this whole thing,” he said.

Imbert said it was Per­sad-Bissessar who led the charge in 2010 to cancel the contract to purchase the OPVs.

“First describing the boats as lemons and useless and, secondly, saying Trinidad and Tobago does not need to be patrolling the seas because the problem with crime is on land and not at sea,” Imbert said.

“I think it is the height of absurdity to come four years later and say that the Prime Minister has ‘pleaded’ with the government of China to give Trinidad and Tobago one of the long-range vessels that are being constructed for some other country,” he said.

Imbert said, logistically, this situation does not make sense.

“She now has come three and half years later, realising that what she did and what her Government did was nonsensical, and is now very calmly and very unashamedly stating as some kind of fantastic achievement that she has pleaded with the government of Chi­na to give us a boat, same boat,” Imbert said.

He said the entire situation has raised more questions than answers.

“What bothers me is what were the tendering procedures; what were the procurement procedures? Was there competitive tendering; what are the cost of these boats; were they designed for use in Trinidad and Tobago waters; are they designed to Coast Guard specifications; are they designed for our Trinidadian sailors; how are Trinidadians going to be trained to use Chinese boats; will the instructions come in English? These are the questions we have to ask. It makes absolutely no sense,” he said.

Imbert said the training programme for such “high-value, sophisticated military vessels” could take sometimes over a year.

“Our Coast Guard men will now have to be going to China where English is not the native tongue, at least with the BAE vessels, they were coming from England so the instructions would have been in English. The whole thing is just ludicrous,” Imbert said.

Imbert said China is not listed among the leading countries in terms of manufacture of such vessels.