Outdated colonial arrangements appear to supersede the facade of autonomy enjoyed by the British Virgin Islands.
The Governor has exercised his constitutional power to invite a United Kingdom navy ship to patrol territorial waters although Government leaders have rejected the assistance, preferring to rely on local law enforcement officers for border protection.
“To tackle the immediate threats to our border security, I am pleased to announce that HMS Medway will shortly return to our waters to offer additional support with surveillance and act as a deterrent. HMS Medway is a British Royal Navy patrol ship, designed for counter-piracy, anti-smuggling, fishery protection and border patrol,” the Governor announced on Friday evening, September 25.
HMS Medway is one of the newest ships in the Royal Navy and the current Caribbean Guard Ship, which visited the Territory briefly months ago to test hurricane preparedness plans.
The Governor stated that the vessel will stay until the end of October and work alongside the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and other members of the Joint Task Force to support patrols and temporary radar arrangements in place.
According to the Governor, this support will be fully funded by the UK Government and contributes to ongoing efforts by regional and international partners to tackle smuggling in the region.
The Governor assured that the crew will not come on to land and will not meet Joint Task Force officers face-to-face in order to avoid any risks of transmitting the COVID-19 virus.
There was no immediate reaction from Government that they are now supporting the move by the Governor.
In the initial stages of COVID-19, the UK government offered the BVI help to bolster its border security, but the BVI refused to take up that offer.
With a spike in COVID-19 cases in early September, there renewed concerns that smuggling across the closed borders may have contributed, but Premier Fahie has been adamantly rejecting the UK support, openly favouring local authorities to get the job done.
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The Governor said in light of recent events and subsequent consequences, he feels he must do all in his power to protect the people of the British Virgin Islands and to support our dedicated law enforcement teams.
“As your Governor, it is my constitutional responsibility to protect the people of BVI and ensure the security of these islands. That is why I made an offer of UK security support earlier in the year, alongside the medical, technical and other support being provided by the UK,” the Governor explained.
He added, “I was disappointed that the offer of security support was not accepted at the time, as I felt it was a missed opportunity to enhance our local capability and protect our community from external risks. I have continually pressed this as a priority with colleagues.”
Intense Pressure & Limited Resources
The Government has been spending some $4,500 per day per barge to assist with border
protection as they rely on local agencies.
The Governor stressed, “Officers have worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with limited resources and under intense pressure. Their work has been commendable and has resulted in a number of illegal entries detected and countless more deterred. On behalf of the people of BVI, I would like to say thank you to our law enforcement officers for their work. I am also grateful for the National Security Council’s support to the Joint Task Force.”
The Governor stated that it is now almost six months since border restrictions were introduced and it is important to take stock.
“As we start to relax internal restrictions, we need to ensure we are not hampering the progress we make by letting COVID-19 slip in illegally through the back door,” the Governor said.