SEVERAL high-powered rifles are among the cache of 359 guns that have either been smuggled into Trinidad and Tobago along its coastal boarders or were locally built by cold-blooded killers over the last six months.
Sunday Express investigations uncovered that the guns, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition, were seized during raids and police exercises.
In some instances the illegal firearms were found after shoot-outs between police and civilians.
The gun, however, that was used to murder Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal on May 4, remains on the streets in the hands of killers.
Seetahal, one of the State prosecutors in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman trial was in her Volkswagen SUV proceeding north along Hamilton Holder Street, Woodbrook, when a Nissan Wingroad car pulled alongside, and her killer shot the former Independent Senator several times.
Crime scene detectives found several 5.62 shells at the scene where Seetahal was murdered.
Seetahal’s murder, like many others, remains unsolved as the murder toll for the year up to yesterday climbed to 234.
The Sunday Express learned that several of the illegal guns were used in murders, robberies, burglaries and shooting incidents.
According to the Police Service serious crime statistics, a total of 255 woundings and shootings have occurred for the year.
Some 1,220 robberies and 1,114 burglaries have also taken place.
Only last year a United States District Court identified Trinidad and Tobago as a transshipment point to smuggle guns, drugs and terrorists during the high profile court matter involving Dino Bouterse, son of Suriname President Desi Bouterse.
And the long range patrol vessels (LRPV) that are expected to boost maritime security measures have not yet arrived in T&T from China.
During an official State visit in February, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that China agreed to deliver a LRPV to increase maritime border security in the shortest possible time.
Government took a decision in 2011 to cancel the offshore patrol vessels (OPV) order claiming that the vessels bore defects and there was a breach in the contractual agreement relating to the timeframe for delivery.
Griffith: Maritime wall
Contacted on Friday, National Security Minister Gary Griffith confirmed to the Sunday Express that during January to June police seized 359 illegal guns.
Acknowledging that the issue was a very serious matter, Griffith said: “A new border protection naval operational plan will involve Coast Guard installations implemented around the island, with fast patrol interceptors assigned specifically to each installation, and this will ensure that the country will now be properly secured, which could not have been done by one OPV simply patrolling 100 miles off our east coast, as this is not where the majority of drug and weapon smuggling is taking place.”
He continued: “The major concern is the illegal entry of drugs, weapons, ammunition and immigrants into our shores and 90-metre vessels are not the best avenues to disrupt such illegal activities.
The Gulf of Paria is approximately 40 miles from the north to the south and this is the area where the drugs are entering the country, as well as on the south coast which is 20 miles to the border at the widest.”
Griffith said a three-prong naval operational plan is being devised to combat the illicit firearm and drug trade.
The plan which, Griffith said, will be co-ordinated from the National Security Operations Centre (NSOC) comprises:
• The Interceptors—this would be the internal line of maritime security whereby, from the several strategically placed Coast Guard installations, they would patrol the bays, coastal areas and shore lines up to four miles out at sea.
• Fast Patrol Crafts—Comprises six such vessels that would patrol T&T territorial waters from territorial waters six miles to 12 miles from our shoreline.
• LRPV—these vessels would be 60 – 75 metres in length, and would patrol from 12 miles to 200 miles from our coast, mostly the north and east coast. This would provide security for the country’s exclusive economic zone, and protect our resources in this zone, just outside territorial waters.
“This is a more viable option to secure our nation’s shores, not by having three OPVs with poor manoeuvring capability and mostly stationed miles off our coast, but by virtually locking down our coastline by installing at least 12 strategically placed Coast Guard installations around T&T.
Each installation will have two fast patrol interceptors with high speed capability patrolling 24-hours per day or in a position to be on immediate stand-by,” Griffith said.
Coastal borders, Griffith said, would be given a further boost by the four Augusta Westland Twin Engine multipurpose helicopters.
Griffith said: “The helicopters would patrol our shorelines and work alongside the Coast Guard installations and 24 interceptor vessels patrolling our waters, as well as the six fast patrol crafts and the LRPV patrolling the north and east coast.
“Hovercraft would also be acquired to patrol the low waters and the Gulf of Paria close to the shoreline.
“Additionally, unmanned aerial vehicles would also be patrolling the coastline.
“This will ensure not just a major deterrent to stop the illegal drug trade and illegal entry of weapons and immigrants, but also provide the assistance to citizens and fishermen who are being attacked by pirates and to vessels and crew in distress around the coastline.”
The cost of maintenance for such installations and vessels, Griffith said, was minuscule when compared to maintaining three OPVs.
Griffith said only recently the security corporation agreement with Venezuela and Colombia was renewed and allows a systematic approach in acquiring intelligence from South America.
The agreement, Griffith said, would assist in possible covert and overt operations involving illegal entry of weapons, drugs or human trafficking.