At least once a year the highest boss of the Royal Navy comes to the Dutch Caribbean for a working visit. Last week vice-admiral Matthieu Borsboom was on board station ship Van Amstel that is currently touring the islands. As known, the Defence Ministry in The Netherlands must economise structurally by one billion euros. The consequences of this are gradually noticeable in the Caribbean, although less than in Europe.
The tasks involved in drug-combating, human-trafficking and piracy in this part of the Kingdom are obviously not being underestimated. Borsboom’s task during his working visit was to reduce the uncertainty among the military personnel somewhat. As of next year, the task of multi-purpose frigates such as Van Amstel with on average 150 men and women on board will be taken over by the smaller-type patrol ship De Holland of the same class. This vessel has only 50 men on board on average, but includes more modern sensor equipment. “It doesn’t mean you won’t see a frigate coming to Curaçao again. Of course, we still have the permanent supply ship Pelikaan and the Coast Guard’s cutters Jaguar, Panther and Poema as well as its Dash-aircraft,” said the vice-admiral.
The Navy had to take four mine-detecting ships and one supply ship out of service due to the budget cuts, but the largest economisation is to come from a reorganisation of personnel. The latter will have less impact in the Caribbean area. After all, there will be a new, permanent base on St. Maarten with approximately 30 marines to also serve as support for Saba and St. Eustatius.
Solidarity with “The West” is still very much alive within the defence community. “Many of our people were stationed here for several years,” said Borsboom. The vice-admiral came to the point on board Van Amstel during an “all hands on deck” when almost all personnel assembled on the helicopter platform. “We consult often with all parties in question and with a voice in the matter and are asked many questions about the Navy as product. The cuts are therefore not to affect the latter too much. “But politicians are faced with a difficult choice: economise on public health, pensions or defence. In any case, you on the Van Amstel remain at the ready.”
Several months ago the oldest ship of the navy (over 20 years) was still on a mission in the Gulf of Somalia hunting for pirates and arrests were made. The vessel is now on a mission in the Caribbean waters, sailing under the flag of the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard with the same tasks and a group of local Coast Guard employees on board. The station ship works together with the American Navy and the Coast Guard. A core task is combating drug-trafficking and several months ago predecessor H.M. Tromp was involved in intercepting approximately 2,000 kilos of cocaine. The fact that a frigate like Van Amstel is sailing in the region has a deterring effect, even though no bales were intercepted during an action last week Tuesday north of Curaçao. “You’ve shown what you’re capable of,” Borsboom said in his motivational talk to the troops. The frigate together with the American Navy will be participating in several counter-drug operations. If necessary, the Van Amstel is also deployed for assistance, for example, after a hurricane.
Borsboom spends one quarter of the year on international working visits to navy bases all around the world. In the past he was, among other positions, commander of Van Speijk of the same frigate class as Van Amstel and knows the ship inside out. The vice-admiral also recognised many on board, from the bakers to the Belgian helicopter crew stationed on Van Amstel within the framework of the international anti-smuggling cooperation. Borsboom took time for everything, be it an informative talk or a humorous chat, so the visit lasted longer than expected. “We are used to that from the admiral,” said Commander Hans Veerbeek of the frigate, with a smile.