The Coast Guard came into being in February 1990. This document is written in order to trace the History of the Coast Guard. Relevant information was gathered from written accounts and by interviewing long-serving members who are still serving the Guyana Defence Force and those who have since retired. This information was ratified and corroborated by other long-serving members. It would therefore be logical to ascribe any errors in this document to the source of the information.
On January 9, 1967 the Maritime Arm of the Guyana Defence Force was established. On its formation it had strength of one Officer and twenty-two (22) other Ranks. SPO St Lewis the longest serving member of the Coast Guard was amongst the twenty-two (22) other Ranks. The Unit was originally located in Ayanganna and were accommodated in close proximity to the gym. This unit was first commanded by Lt Joseph Skeete who was responsible for organising such administrative duties like grass cutting to instituting routine Coast Guard operations. While located in Ayanganna, Lt. H B Hinds was selected to command the Marine Wing in 1969. He immediately began to get the Unit involved in marine related work by inviting Mr. Sue Free, a fishing Officer to teach the ranks how to make Seines and nets.
After a long struggle, Lt H.B. Hinds succeeded in relocating the Marine Unit from Ayanganna to the Rowing Club, currently the marine police out post. It was during 1970 that the unit was renamed the Maritime Command of the GDF. The entrance was exactly where it is now but the base ended first before the vertical water tank and was demarked by a fence running towards the river. Junior ratings and Police shared the bathroom and accommodation fostering camaraderie. After some time the Medical centre as we know now was used by SNCOs for their accommodation. The base was very low; in fact it was as low as buildings on the eastern side of the fence e.g. the building where the famous ‘black pudding’ was bought. There was no kitchen hence meals came from Ayanganna. Lt Davis who was, at that time, Officer Commanding the Service Division, was frequently pressed for time as a result of the late arrival of meals from Ayanganna. Officers and SNCOs along with junior ratings joined a line together to uplift their meals. These were consumed in rooms and any other area on he base that one found convenient and to their liking. Meals were later collected in bulk from the area where the junior ranks now receive meals and would be distributed to officers and SNCOs in the Senior Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers Lobby. The Officers and SNCOs mess as we know now was first used by Officers alone and later by the SNCOs.
But before all this there was an old train wagon referred to as the “Train” which was used as a canteen and drinking spot for the hard pressed reps at the time. A kitchen was later constructed to be used as a soup kitchen and would eventually evolve into a meals kitchen. It made use of a fireside housed in half drums. Scrap wood was solicited from various saw-milling companies. It wasn’t until after 1993 that industrial gas stove were introduced to the kitchen. When things got bad and it was difficult to force the hands of saw millers for scraps, wooden boats were cannibalized and used as fuel to cook the next meal.
In 1974, the building of the wharf commenced with Col. H Hinds at the helm of the unit. It was built by Coast Guard personnel and was supervised by two personnel from the Transport and Harbours Department. It was completed in 1975 before the acquisition of the first Fast Patrol Boat. Between 1978 and 1990 the base strength had increased to five hundred (500) Officers and other ranks.
During the period 1969 – 1970 the maritime fleet that referred to themselves as the ‘buccaneers’ was moved from customs boathouse to Sprostons wharf, which is now Guyana National Industrial Corporation.
With Chief of Staff, Col. Pope at the helm of the Force, the Sprostons dockyard built four steel hulled vessels making 1969 a year of great change to the Force. These were: CAMOUDI, LABARIA, RATTLER and HYMERALY and they were built with caterpillar engines. The crew were nonetheless enthused and dedicated to their prized possession. The purposes of these vessels were to transport Land Rovers and 32 troops to GNIC dockyard.
Changes continued in 1969 with the Guyana Defence Force receiving three (3) 40 ft River Patrol Launches from England; these were the JAGUAR, OCELOT and MORGAY. The MORGAY was destroyed by fire, while the OCELOT and JAGUAR were decommissioned locally years later.
In 1975 the Trawler Ekereku was acquired and used for fishing and was later converted to a Patrol Trawler. In 1976 the maritime command acquired a Coastal Patrol Craft from England. The Peccari DFS 1010, a 103 ft Patrol Craft, arrived in Georgetown in 1977 after several weeks of crossing the Atlantic voyage from England by sea. It was decommissioned in 1991 but was out of service some five (5) years before. The craft was powered by two (2) Paxmon high-speed engines, fully air-conditioned and her main source of electricity was two (2) pet bow generators. The vessel was equipped with two (2) mounted guns, one forward and one aft and had a MP25 pistol. In 1976 a crew of seven (7) and twenty-two (22) departed the shores of Guyana and arrived at Heathrow International Airport. This provided the crew an opportunity to witness her construction, to be trained to operate her and to sail her back to Guyana.
Po Alphonso, who served as Chief Engineer on board the Peccari, is the only engineer who alive to recount the details which aided greatly in the writing of this document. While in England the crew were subdivided into their specialty for training and would only see each other on weekends or when they did joint classes, for example, fire fighting and damage control at HMS Fenix. The Engineers were trained at the various civilian sub contractors Companies that built parts of the engine and supplied to Vosper thorny Croft ship builders, which constructed the vessel. They also underwent training in Germany on HMS Sultan and in Gosport.
The Seaman, for example, the Navigators and Deckhands were trained in Portsmouth some of these navigators were Sub Lt Baksh, Lt Johnson, Lt Chuck-A-Sang, Lt John Henry who was the commanding Officer and PO Clarke.
The Raider technicians were trained at HMS Collingwood Portsmouth and some names were CPO Sinclair, Po Holder, Po Kansinally, LR feather Stone, LR Salmon & AB Elvis. CPO Sinclair became chief electrician on the Peccari. The communication team were CPO Rigby, LR Amsterdam and or McUrdy. They were trained in Portsmouth. CPO Rigby is the only serving member of this team at the time of the writing of this document.
The Guyana delegated Major Davis to supervise the crew. He was responsible for the welfare of the crew; he was the Pay Officer and overlooked the construction process while the crew was in school. Upon completion of shipbuilding and theoretical classes the entire crew assembled together for practical training onboard the newly built vessel. The training was executed over three (3) weeks before sailing for Guyana. The cost for manufacturing the vessel was in excess of one (1) million pounds and was guaranteed for one (1) year and spare parts were also provided. Three British representatives, consisting of a navigator, An Engineer and Radar Technician, accompanied the crew to Guyana.
In expectation of the vessel’s arrival the wharf at the Coast Guard headquarters had already been built. There were many stringent restrictions in place, for example, if you were not a crewmember, access was denied. The British trained crew was required to train persons who were selected locally. It was arguably the crème de la crème, of which the now Lt Erskine, was a part. Lt Erskine’s ability to rapidly grasp concepts, his professional acumen and his immeasurable potentials has resulted in him being amongst the stalwarts and pillars of the Coast Guard in addition to being one of the Unit’s most experienced Officers.
The Peccari conducted mainly fisheries protection patrol and during the 10 years in operation apprehended a number of Trawlers, many being of Korean origin. The vessel had a sprint speed of 27kts and cruised at 15kts. The duration of patrol lasted for two weeks. The vessel was also involved in fire-fighting duties, for example, when a vessel caught fire in the harbour the Peccari came to their rescue. A practical example of this, was in the year (state year) when the Rice Board in Water Street was engulfed in flames and it was required to conduct water spouting from the river.
Commanding Officers who served on board the Peccari were Lt Cdr George and Lt CDR Flores Lt Cdr Edwards. Lt Erskine also served on board the Peccari.
The deck of the vessel was made of marine ply. This was difficult to obtain in Guyana and when it eventually weakened, it led to the eventual decommissioning of the vessel. One major hindrance was the unavailability of funding for maintenance of the vessel. During the vessel’s many stages of disrepair, it was moved to the inner wharf where the vessel was decommissioned. The once, prized possession of the Coast Guard now lay dead, buried and possibly decomposed in a grave yard unknown only to God.
In 1979, two (2) fast attack crafts (FAC) were acquired from the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, the DF 1011& 1012.
The unit acquired six (6) craft from the German Democratic Republic of which three were Inshore Patrol vessels (IPV) known as SABs and three River Patrol vessels known as the “Grass Hoppers”. The SABs were named HASSAR (AFIVIS). HOURI (DFIOIA) & PIRAI (DF10200).
The Grasshoppers were namely DF1013, DF1014, and DF1015. Several trawlers which were apprehended on fishery Protection patrols were seized by the court. The Makandra II, a fishing trawler, was also given over to the Maritime Corps, she was later renamed “Maipuri” (DF 1017) and converted to a patrol vessel. It was subsequently sold to a private citizen. The last patrol launch to be acquired was the DFS 1021 from the Georgetown Sea foods.
The earliest record of training for Coast Guard personnel commenced in 1969 at the Transport and Harbours Department. The members of the Unit were trained in Trinidad by the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard in the same year and the training was for a six (6) month duration. SPO St Lewis is the only remaining member from this batch of crewmen. In 1974 the Rowing Club was built in order to conduct training sessions. It was located where the marine police is now housed, at the back of the Ruimveldt Police Station, and was commanded by Cap A. Burgess. Only the pre-seaman’s course was conducted at the Rowing Club. The police who were sharing the base at the Ramp were offered training at the Rowing Club and in exchange the Maritime Corps representatives would utilize the entire base at the Camp. This led to the eventual movement of the training school from the Rowing Club.
In 1975 Maritime Corps training division was moved and establish at Vreed-En-Hood. In 1981 the school was re-located at Kingston with Lt T A Pile as the OIC, where again SPO St Lewis contributed tangibly in the area of training, in fact he, for the greater part of his career, specialized in training of maritime personnel. He trained even ratings that eventually become Officers.
The Training Division concentrated mainly on seaman ship and Navigation Electrical Communication. The Technical Division conducted their training at the Ramp in their Office spaces, however these courses were later moved to Kingston. A key figure in the development of the Training Division was Lt Cdr Flores who cultivated cohesiveness amongst training staff but was also accredited as the officer who was instrumental in accruing material resources for the school, and was successful in creating an unparalleled training atmosphere. He was considered as the Moses of the training division and is one of the most experienced and well-trained Officers who still is in service at the time of writing of this document.