National Security Minister Gary Griffith said yesterday the decision to purchase a long range vessel from the Chinese was not done by vaps since “the acquisition of a long range patrol vessel was always part of Government’s maritime security lockdown”.
In an interview with the Express, Griffith said Government wanted a three-tiered approach, from the shoreline to two miles out, then from two miles to ten miles there would be coastal patrol vessels and the final tier involved the long range patrol vessel to secure the exclusive economic zone.
“It is not just putting OPVs and sailing aimlessly around the waters, but was part of the holistic lockdown of our shores,” he said.
“This was never a situation of vaps,” he added.
On the specific acquisition of the vessels from the Chinese, Griffith said it was confirmed in Cabinet when a naval implementation team was assigned specifically to investigate and acquire the best type of vessels for the three tiers (referred to earlier).
He said the team was appointed to prevent the purchase of a lot of defective items as happened under the previous administration. Citing the 12 interceptors, he said they were defective and the coast guard did not benefit from these purchases, while the taxpayer suffered.
“The BAE vessel was also defective,” he said.
Griffith said Government decided to select experts in the field to be part of the naval implementation team to go around the world to look at vessels to ensure the best ones could be obtained.
“It was shortlisted to four countries—Colombia, Korea, Holland and China,” he said.
He said the naval implementation team returned to Trinidad and Tobago “sometime in January ... so to say that this was not planned, or it was vaps, is not true”, he said.
“We actually have it documented that the implementation team went to China,” the minister said.
Griffith said Government still had to finally confirm the vessels being acquired were still the best ones for Trinidad and Tobago. He said the selection of a vessel is very technical and therefore the implementation team had to do a more thorough analysis of the Chinese vessels “to ensure that it is appropriate for Trinidad and Tobago waters”.
He said he did not want a repeat of the Austal vessels where six were purchased from Australia and they were not appropriate for this country’s waters and are now unserviceable.
On the issue of the language difference, Griffith said it was comical and embarrassing in this day for critics of the acquisition of the Chinese vessels to cite the language difference as a deterrent.
“That has never been a determining factor not to acquire military assets anywhere in the world,” he said, adding it was embarrassing to have persons even mention it.
“There is no part of this planet that is deemed to be too far because of technology. ... That went out in the 1990s,” he added.
He said the type of waters, the weaponry system, the level of training, the frequency of use were the issues to be considered when assessing compatibility of a vessel from anywhere in the world with Trinidad and Tobago.
Griffith said cost and financing were also critical. He said while he did not know the exact price of the Chinese vessels, he knew it was hundreds of millions of dollars less than the BAE OPVs which the former administration had agreed to buy.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had announced Government would purchase “in the shortest possible time” a long range vessel from China.
The decision was criticised by PNM MP Colm Imbert and former minister Jack Warner who described it as a “vaps”.
In 2007 the PNM had signed a £150 sterling contract for the purchase of OPVs but the People’s Partnership administration cancelled that contract as soon as it entered office.