A call for the State to invest in a helicopter

A Grenadian national who resides in the United States has expressed the view that the state should consider purchasing at least one helicopter in light of the February 7, tragic boating incident and the many challenges faced by local fishermen and others who frequent the Grenadines passage.

The New York resident reportedly expressed this view in an electronic message sent to Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Nazim Burke, who made the disclosure during last week Wednesday’s weekly press briefing at NDC headquarters in St. George’s.

According to Burke, the individual’s proposal came against the backdrop of the recent boating tragedy, which occurred just outside the waters of the northeastern village of River Sallee in St. Patrick.

Eleven Grenadians were onboard the vessel en route to Carriacou, when it ran into difficulty, resulting in the deaths of two persons including a 14-year-old school girl whose body was recovered among some rocks.

Five persons survived the ordeal while a search was being conducted for four other young men.

Burke told reporters that the concerned Grenadian “suggested that the Coast Guard, Special Services Unit (SSU) and National Disaster Management Agency (NaDMA) could share in the services of the helicopter (and that) alternatively it (the helicopter) could be a private business opportunity, where the helicopter is used for island tours, including the rain forest and in time of disaster and emergencies could be leased by the state.

He pointed out that the Grenadines is a chain of islands surrounded by water and from time to time, the need will arise for search and rescue operations and rapid deployment.

“We thank the Americans for what they had given us, as an island nation, an archipelago of islands, much more is needed,” said Burke, who is also a Senator in the country’s Parliament.

Pointing to the size of the speedboat involved in the recent tragedy, the NDC Political Leader also cited the need for legislative review on the use of boats by passengers.

“We understand that this was an 18 foot boat with an outboard engine with 11 persons on board…this kind of situation calls for or warrants some (legislative) review because passenger’s safety is paramount,” he said.

Burke recalled that in “2005, 2006, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, under the Petroleum Fund had given Grenada monies to buy some big modern coast guards.

However, he said that never materialised as the “money was diverted by the then New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell for some other purpose.”

Burke added that while this is not a time to lay blame and find fault, it is his sincere hope that “we will learn from this tragedy (and) we will collectively find a better way to deal with this kind of response.”

In an interview with THE NEW TODAY following last week Wednesday’s press conference, former NDC Chairman and head of the Public Accounts Committee, Dr. George Vincent noted that according to the “Auditor General’s report, monies were given to the government of Grenada in early 2008 to purchase a coast guard, construct the Mirabeau Farm School and the Carlton House” but this never materialized.

Dr. Vincent cited the report as saying it was not aware how the monies were used.

PM Mitchell had acknowledged in the past that the money was received and placed in the Consolidated Fund and might have been used up to pay salaries and for other government expenses.

Burke also told reporters at the press conference that the Mitchell-led government should consider approaching some of its “billionaire friends” to assist with the acquisition of the much needed helicopter.

“Perhaps we can talk to one of them and see whether or not they will be prepared in all the circumstances to make a donation of a helicopter and if they do perhaps the agency  together with St. George’s University could take responsibility for the maintenance,” he said.

According to Burke, this is the kind of “creative thinking and innovative leadership that is required in this country.”

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