Royal Bahamas Defence Force makes huge surge in migrant apprehensions


The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) announced that its migrant apprehensions increased dramatically in 2021 when compared with the previous year.

RBDF Commodore Raymond King said during a January 2022 news conference that detainments in the Bahamas increased by 456% in the past year, according to The Tribune, a Bahamian newspaper. King said the RBDF is faced with “people  smugglers” who are using more sophisticated methods to evade authorities.

The huge increase in apprehensions is most likely tied to the influx of Haitian migrants, King said, according to The Tribune. The sea-borne smuggling of Haitian migrants has become increasingly frequent as the Caribbean island nation deals with economic and political crises, as well as gang-related kidnappings, Reuters reported January 26, 2022.

“However, there’s a new trend with the migration movement. … They’re now using American sailing vessels to conceal their movement as opposed to the traditional Haitian sailing sloops,” King said, according to The Tribune. “The traditional Haitian sailing vessels are now being equipped with outboard engines to quicken their transit northbound into the Bahamas.”

(Pictured: The Royal Bahamian Defence Force interdicts a sailing vessel of Haitian migrants in 2014.)

King credited the RBDF’s success to its collaboration and coordination with regional partners — in particular with Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos (OPBAT). OPBAT is a multiagency effort led by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) that allows USGC aircraft and other Department of Homeland Security agencies to assist with counternarcotics operations, migrant interdictions, and search and rescue in the Bahamas.

In October 2021, Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), delivered a U.S. $2.4 million radar system to the RBDF to support maritime security in the Bahamas, which is part of USNORTHCOM’s area of responsibility.

King said one of the challenges facing the RBDF is that vessels leave from multiple ports in Haiti en route to multiple destinations.

“It requires us to prioritize which target of interest based on the availability of our assets to intercept … or leveraging the assistance from the United States Coast Guard and finally our local law enforcement agents once we would have detected the vessels and handed over the information to them,” King said, according to The Tribune.

In a recent example of this cooperation, the USCG intercepted 191 Haitian migrants January 25, 2022, aboard an overloaded sailing vessel off the Bahamas that was thought to be headed for Florida, Reuters reported, citing U.S. officials. In the 2021 fiscal year, more than 3,200 migrants were apprehended trying to reach the United States by sea, according to a January 26, 2022, story in The New York Times newspaper.

“These grossly overloaded vessels operate without proper safety equipment and are not built for these hazardous voyages,” Lt. David Steele, a USCG liaison officer for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, said in a statement, according to Reuters.

King also said there was an increase in vessel boardings in the RBDF’s attempts to seize illegal weapons, ammunition and drugs, according to The Tribune. However, he said there was a decline (55%) in catching illegal poachers that he attributed in part to persistent and overlapping RBDF patrols.

“This is evident,” King said, “in the response from the fishing community who’ve said repeatedly the last two years would have been the best years they’ve experienced.”