In August 2015, Lieutenant (Coast Guard) David Harewood led the crew of the Barbados Coast Guard’s flagship vessel, HMBS Trident, to Dominica to assist in relief efforts after Tropical Storm Erika wreaked havoc on the island.
They, along with local troops and fire officers from neighbouring Antigua, were responsible for rescuing 204 residents of the southeastern village of Petite Savanne who had been stranded for several days after the storm, which cut off the area from the rest of the island.
It was a successful operation, despite the challenge of navigating the turbulent waters in the aftermath of one of the worst storms to hit the island in recent history.
The mission helped lay the foundation for Harewood’s current role as lead maritime planner for Exercise Tradewinds, the annual regional military and disaster preparedness exercise.
“What I can say is from dealing with Erika in the Commonwealth of Dominica, that has allowed me now, since I’m planning the exercise, to focus on the eastern side of the island [Barbados] a lot and look at the difficulties that Barbados in itself can encounter. Because one of the things that I’ve found is that on the calmer side, which is normally the west side, it is easier to do extractions, it’s easier to help persons.
“Now, what we found when we went to Dominica [is that] the seas were rough, they were turbulent, and we would be still for 30 seconds and when you drifted, you would have drifted almost a mile based on the currents and the tide. And to help with the disaster relief, and to help to get the persons out of the island, it was indeed challenging,” Harewood told Barbados TODAY.
According to him, this year, the maritime aspect of Exercise Tradewinds will expose regional troops to similar conditions to enable them to handle such disasters in the future.
“We expect that this type of thing will occur, and it’s not going to occur in calm waters where we can operate as easy and as comfortable as we like, but we’re gonna operate under arduous conditions which force the crew to have to think, react, which forces all the security elements, all the disaster persons to think outside the box to ensure that they can get to offer that relief that is going to be needed,” he explained.
As the maritime arm of the Barbados Defence Force (BDF), the Coast Guard is also responsible for law enforcement at sea. Harewood noted that maritime security threats are not limited to any one Caribbean country, therefore a combined effort is needed to ensure the region’s waters remain safe.
“Persons who try to infiltrate a country normally [do so] via air or via sea. And with Barbados being surrounded by such a vast amount of water and the square mileage that we have to protect, the Coast Guard, for security reasons, is very important,” he stated.
“We’re facing the threat obviously of drugs, that’s the biggest thing that comes into Barbados and also the Caribbean. But also you have to be very wary of human trafficking, illegal arms, illegal guns. The sea, like I said, is a vast area so there are a lot of entry points and routes. So, if we’re not policing and patrolling the waters as necessary, interfacing also with the fishermen out there who may see something and can give a call, then we’re losing the battle,” he added.
Planning the maritime operations of Exercise Tradewinds 2017 is the latest challenge for Harewood in his 16-year career at the BDF. The journey began in the infantry in 2001, and in 2004 he transferred to the Coast Guard after completing the Officers Selection Course in Dartmouth, England.
Reflecting on his career, Harewood said the Dominica mission has been his most memorable experience to date, “because it challenged me, it caused me to think outside the box”.
“Once we landed in the country, I had at least a turnaround time of 45 minutes before the request [for assistance] came in. And then once we got on the ground and we saw the area, the amount of people, and then one of the locals saying how long they’d been waiting to be assisted, in terms of going up the mountain, coming down, hoping that there was relief . . .
“So after taking on those 204 persons on board, that also was not normal because you had to house a lot of them on the outside. Again, that was a little security element but the timing and the fact that they needed to be rescued was paramount and that’s what we focused on. And I think the last person we brought on was a lady who was bedridden. We were actually leaving when we got the call that there was someone, because the small vessels couldn’t take her. We turned around and we had to work out how best to get her on the vessel in those conditions without causing further injury to her. The crew worked well,” he said.
He is hoping for similar success with the Barbados leg of Exercise Tradewinds.
“Practice makes perfect and things like what we’re doing now with Exercise Tradewinds, where we come to . . . look for best practices, look for skills, look to see where we go wrong and what we can do to modify and make it better, it’s things like this that help us, when the reality hits, to actually go and do it as though . . . we were doing it all the time.
“And that’s the effect we wanted. So, obviously, the persons we were assisting would feel comfortable – ‘yes, these persons know what they’re doing, the Barbados Coast Guard knows what it is doing’ – and invariably Barbados as a country has persons who are experienced and skilled enough to effect change and render assistance when necessary,” Harewood said.