Premier and Minister of Finance Honourable Andrew A. Fahie (R1) has stated that it was the Joint-Agency Task Force (JTF) consisting of Police, Customs and Immigration officers that decided to hire the services of EZ Shipping Limited to be used as radar platforms from December 23, 2020, to January 22, 2021.
The barges, as they are referred to, was critical in preventing illegal entry and smuggling into the territory during that period and also played a huge part in curbing the importation of COVID-19 into the Virgin Islands.
The VI Government had turned to the barges to boost border security following a spike in COVID-19 cases linked to human smuggling into the VI back in August 2020.
The decision for the payment of $360,000 to EZ Shipping for providing sea patrols for one month was made on February 17, 2021, during a cabinet meeting chaired by His Excellency, the Governor Mr John J. Rankin, CMG.
The post-cabinet meeting report released on Thursday, February 25, 2021, said Cabinet "Approved: the continuance of works with the issuance of a new contract agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and EZ Shipping Limited to provide two barges to serve as radar platforms for the securing of sea borders for a further one month, with effect from 23rd December 2020 through 22nd January 2021 in the amount of $360,000."
The report had also stated that the previous contract with EZ Shipping Limited "has resulted in improved border security measures that are quantitatively successful in deterring illicit border activity; effected a marked reduction in marine traffic and that the BVI is working assiduously towards finalisation of a Sea Border Protection Plan to include long-term solutions."
“It was not a decision made by government but – in terms of the payment – when they brought it, we agreed because of the procedures and all they went through,” Premier Fahie said during a press conference held on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
Premier Fahie noted too that the cost to hire the barges pale in comparison to what would have been the projected losses and expenditure had COVID-19 been able to penetrate the borders due to human smuggling and illegal entry.
“The JTF was who made the decision to that (hire company), and they reported that felt that they paid extremely great dividends.”
The Premier added that the JTF is a team that he has respect for, “and if they made the decision and brought it to government as a solution, I’m more than happy to support my law enforcement team.”
He also mentioned that the company was hired because the territory didn’t have any radar platforms “to that extent.”