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Dutch, French and British Military’s Launch Joint Operation to Intensify Aid for Hurricane Hit Islands

SINT MAARTEN - France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK) have decided to launch a joint operation called Albatros, which, through the creation of a tripartite military structure, will respond to the need to intensify international coordination to supply aid to those in the Caribbean affected by the series of hurricanes which have caused considerable damage over a very widespread area.

This military structure, called the Multinational Caribbean Coordination Cell (MNCCC), will aim to establish and monitor in real time the logistical situation in the area in order to share, coordinate and optimise the use of ships and aircraft delivering emergency aid to affected islands.

By working together as well as alongside close allies and partners, including the United States and Canada, “the military cell will improve the efficiency of humanitarian relief operations in the region,” a statement from the British Defence Ministry said.

Two coordination centres, staffed by military personnel from each nation, have been set up: a strategic cell located in Europe and an operative cell established on the Dutch Naval Base Parera in Curaçao.

Its mission will be to consolidate and monitor military deployments, material, resources and air and sea military movements throughout the Caribbean. This cell, under the command of a French colonel but subordinate to the strategic cell, will be staffed by about 20 military personnel from the different armies of the three nations involved.

A first operational capability is expected by September 24, full capacity is expected by September 27. The duration of the mission will be in the order of one to two months. The British contingent will provide specific expertise in tactical and operational air lifts.

The strategic cell, for its part, is in charge of ensuring unity with the aim of pooling the three nations’ military conveyancing to the islands. It will broadcast this Full Logistic Strategic Picture (FLSP) at the operational level.

Florence Parly, France’s minister of the Armed Forces, welcomed this example of European and military cooperation and thanked “our partners and allies for their commitment to this coordination project to the benefit of those who have suffered because of the passage of several hurricanes.

British Secretary of Defence Michael Fallon said: “The United Kingdom has led the way in providing expert disaster relief to those suffering in the wake of Hurricane Irma and now Maria moving a significant amount of troops, aid and equipment into the region. The creation of this coordination centre will see the UK work with our European allies as we share our expertise and assets to coordinate the delivery of emergency relief across the region.

The creation of the cell is the latest example of international coordination in response to disasters in the region which has so far included a British C17 carrying 30 tonnes of French equipment and vehicles to Guadeloupe to support French helicopter operations, and Dutch ship HNLMS Karel Doorman which stopped in Portsmouth (south of England) today en route to the Caribbean to embark more British aid. In addition, a UK specialist in humanitarian aid and disaster relief was amongst the first French military deployment to the region and all three nations have liaison officers embedded in each other’s military headquarters.

PHOTO CUTLINE: Military coordination (photo credit: French Ministry of the Armed Forces)

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PHOTO CUTLINE: A Royal Air Force C17 transported French aid to the island of Guadeloupe (photo credit: French Ministry of the Armed Forces)

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Public Schools to Reopen on October 2nd. Minister Impressed with Readiness

PHILIPSBURG - The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport is currently still on target for the reopening of schools. The soft opening of school is set for September 28th, 2017. The soft opening will consists of students assessing their school materials, and speaking with their teachers, peers and guidance counselors. The official start date will be October 2nd, 2017.

The Foundation Catholic Education school board consisting of the St. Dominic Primary and High School, the Sister Regina Primary School, the St. Joseph Primary School, the Sister Magda Primary School, the Sister Borgia Primary School, and the Sister Marie Laurence Primary School is fully prepared to reopen for all grades and cycles on October 2nd, 2017. 

The SVOBE school board consisting of the Milton Peters College and the Sundial School will be operational for pre-exam and exam classes. The FAVE school board consisting of the Academy, Academy PSVE and CAPE will also be operational for the pre-exam and exam classes.

The Methodist Agogic Center, the Asha Stevens and Hillside Christian Schools will also be operational as of October 2nd, 2017. All Public Schools will commence on October 2nd with the pre exam and exam classes, while other classes will be announced once more information is available as to the teacher availability on Tuesday, September 26th, 2017.

As of Wednesday, September 27th, the National Institute for Professional Advancement (NIPA) will no longer be utilized as a shelter, after which it will be thoroughly cleaned and ready for classes on October 2nd, 2017. The University of St. Martin has granted the Charlotte Brookson (CBA) academy the use of three (3) classrooms, which will allow the CBA to commence on the target date of October 2nd, with the 5th and 6th formers at the University of St. Martin.

The University of St. Martin and the Seventh Day Adventist School are still in the process of assessing the nature and severity of the damage and availability of classrooms and staff. Once the information has been determined, the information will be made available accordingly. The Learning Unlimited commenced classes, today, Monday September 25th, 2017.

School boards have met internally and have made provisions to house students in collaboration with sister schools.

Currently 18 out of the 27 schools have electricity and 12 have water. The Minister ECYS, the honorable Silveria Jacobs, and staff members of the Ministry ECYS are in contact with NV GEBE, Telem and UTS, to ensure the restoration of electricity, water and telecommunications to the schools to remain on target with the reopening of schools.

“I am very impressed by the readiness of the subsidized schools and their cooperation with each other to make the reopening of school a reality as soon as possible. I would like to thank all teachers, management and staff and school boards for all their personal sacrifices to make this possible in the interest of our youth on St. Maarten. Your needs will also be met, your happiness and wellbeing is also important to us and with God’s help and strength, we will all make it through this ordeal stronger and better than before. Education is on the move,” Minister Jacobs concluded.

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Minister of Education Jacobs thanks USAR NL for assistance

POND ISLAND - In an effort to realize the October 2nd deadline date of the reopening of our schools, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport received great assistance from the Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) from the Netherlands. USAR is a search and rescue organization, which assists in the event of a disaster.

On September 21st, the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, the honorable Silveria Jacobs, met with the Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) of the Netherlands, for farewell gathering at the Fire Department.

Upon arrival in St. Maarten, USAR along with local contractors assisted at the majority of public and subsidized schools with the clean up, removal of debris, galvanize, and the further securing of the schools and materials.

USAR NL did an extensive clean up at the schools, but due to limited time on the island as well as other areas of priorities, they were not able to complete all 27 schools.

USAR representatives attended meetings, which were held with the Ministry ECYS’ recovery team and the school boards of the public and subsidized schools to ascertain the short-term recovery needs of the schools and to meet the goal on the reopening of schools on October 2nd.

At the farewell gathering, the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, honorable Silveria Jacobs thanked the USAR team for the contributions, hard work and dedication to the restoration and recovery of St. Maarten, especially within the education system. An exchange of tokens of appreciation was made between USAR NL representatives and Minister ECYS Silveria Jacobs. 

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Port St. Maarten Reopens Cargo Operations over the Weekend

PORT ST. MAARTEN – Cargo operations at the Captain David Cargo Quay have resumed after a side scan sonar was carried out of the seabed to see if there were any underwater obstructions.

Over the weekend the Model 6 Mobile Gottwald Harbor Crane was back in operation offloading containers from Motor Vessel Tropic Sun.

The assessment was carried out after the passing of Maria and there was no additional damage to the nation’s port facilities.  It was confirmed by the Port Maritime Department that the water depth remains the same at the quay and there was no visual debris on the seabed to obstruct safe passage of vessels.

Hurricane Maria passed to the south of Sint Maarten on Tuesday into Wednesday, September 19/20.  Sea conditions in Great Bay remained rough up until and including Friday. 

The Captain David Cargo Quay is open for relief aid and supplies, but also building supplies and commercial cargo which are essential to the rebuilding effort. The safe berthing of vessels has commenced.

The cargo quay is 540 meters long with a water depth of 10.5 meters, and houses up to 3,000 teu-containers at the quay’s storage area.

Port St. Maarten discontinued cargo operations at 6.00 PM on Monday, September 18. Personnel at the port activated their hurricane preparations plans in order to protect the facility, cargo and buildings due to the approach of Hurricane Maria.

Requests have been received from private consignees for the importation of goods, and Port St. Maarten’s Management advises that the aforementioned should follow-up with their usual cargo agents to regulate the aforementioned.

U.S. cargo to be sent to the island as normal are to be shipped via Tropical Shipping, King Ocean and Seaboard Marine Line.

European cargo bound for country Sint Maarten normally is shipped via CMA-CGM and Seatrade StreamLines, and arrangements should be made via those companies with their respective local agencies.

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Detectives arrests three persons for looting

COLE BAY - On Saturday September 23rd, 2017 three suspects were arrested by Detectives for looting.

These arrests were made based on reliable information that was shared with police department. Two apartments were searched at a complex in Cole Bay during which a large amount and a large assortment of house hold items were found and confiscated.

Two persons identified with initials L.W. (63) and S.R.S. (22) were arrested at this location and taken to the Philipsburg Police Headquarters.

A third suspect identified with initials F.A.C.O. was also arrested on that same day for the possession of several brand-new items for which he could not present a documentation of ownership.

These items included a large flat screen television, air-conditioning unit, outboard boat engine, electronics, watches etc.  The suspects along with confiscated items were also taken to the police station.

The suspect remains in custody for further investigation. (Sint Maarten Police Force)

PHOTO CUTLINE: Cole Bay Villas (Police Photo)

KOOBAAI VILLAS 24092017

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Telecom icon Dennis Rombley passes away

PHILIPSBURG - The former general manager of Telem and UTS Mr. Dennis Franklin Rombley has passed away. From 1979 Mr. Rombley served in various roles at Landsradio from Technical manager, project manager and eventually General Manager of Landsradio and the restructuring and rebranding of the company to Telem in 1995.

In 1995, he coordinated rebuilding of the telecom network after the devastation of Hurricane Luis. 

In 1996, he was appointed general manager of Antelecom, which was rebranded as UTS until 2001. Serving as secretary of Island government telecom committee to research the Telecom Market on St Maarten. 

Rombley also served as Managing Director of Satel 2003 until 2007. 

Mr. Rombley was a part of several community foundations namely Reach out Touch, Science Fair, Senior Citizen Recreation foundation.

Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date. 

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Positive outlook at UTS after major damage to infrastructure

PHILIPSBURG - UTS employees and management are positive and full of resolve following a full status-check of company, staff and operations following the passing of hurricanes Irma and Maria. After carrying out as many emergency repairs as possible, around the clock, during the past weeks, a full assessment was done to cover the entire scope of damage and repairs needed to restore full mobile and broadband internet service to our Eastern Caribbean islands.

The company’s infrastructure sustained major damages as a result of the aforementioned hurricanes, with hurricane force winds bringing down the main telecommunication tower on the roof of the Philipsburg location. This portion of the building houses the company’s core network infrastructure, posing an immediate threat of further damage from water & wind.

Immediately after the storm, work commenced to remove the tower and patch the damaged roof. Technicians were dispatched almost immediately as well, to assess damage and carry out emergency repairs on the various tower sites throughout the island.

“I am truly grateful for the dedicated team of professionals we have here at UTS” says Glen Carty, CEO of UTS’ Eastern Caribbean operations. “Our team of hard-working, solution-oriented technicians and support staff did a phenomenal job in the face of many challenges and obstacles.  Irma left none of our team members’ homes and properties untouched, with some literally losing everything.

In spite of that fact, our teams worked tirelessly around the clock in service of our community to restore telecommunications as quickly as humanly possible. In times like these it becomes so very important to be able to keep in touch with loved ones. Due to the urgent situation of our customers, our slogan of ‘feel the connection’, became even more so the driving force motivating our team to provide our communities with service restoration as soon as possible,” Carty continues.

The human aspect

In the crisis situation, the human aspect was also not overlooked at UTS. A company is only as strong as the sum of its parts and the human aspect is an important factor to consider in the face of crisis. A special team was dispatched from the company headquarters in Curacao to support local staff with various aspects of their personal lives to allow for as quick a restoration as possible.

Personal damages were documented, insurance claims were arranged for and supplies and additional manpower were also arranged to assist the teams that worked around the clock restoring telecommunications. Many local, non-technical staff also pitched in daily where they could to support the infrastructure teams. Whether it was preparing meals, carrying out building repairs, sourcing supplies & fuel or providing information to customers by radio, phone, email or internet, it was all hands on deck for a true team-effort.    

Customer service to resume full-force

While various teams provided emergency service post-Irma, customers can now connect with UTS as they have been used to starting today, Monday, September 25. The Philipsburg store location will re-open for regular business from 9 am to 2pm daily.

The Marigot store location is also expected to re-open early this week, pending the assessment of a few final details. The Cole Bay location at Paradise Plaza Mall remains closed for the moment, however remote assistance is also available through the UTS Customer Service Center by phone, email and Facebook. This team is available daily from 8 am to 4pm to answer any questions or address any other concerns.

UTS’ dedicated business division is also available as of today from 9am to 4pm. “We want to be able to assist our customers wherever we can as they try to resume their day-to-day lives and business. A simple phone call or message from a loved one abroad, or an online order to replace damaged or lost items are all steps towards getting things back to normal. You don’t realize how many aspects of our lives are touched by technology until you have to go without for a while,” states Carty.

Prepaid credit sales took place in a limited way after the passing of Irma. Various resellers still sold scratch cards and once the curfew lifted, UTS also sold credit at its Philipsburg location through a temporary sales point. “Regrettably we couldn’t resume top-up sales right away as some safety concerns needed to be considered and we also didn’t want our sales to become an obstacle to the authorities as they tried to enforce the curfew. Once these things were addressed, we brought top-up back on-line through various channels,” says UTS CEO, Glen Carty.

With day-to-day life on the island stabilizing more each day, customers can expect the full range of UTS customer service to resume in-store and remotely. “We will be able to assist with tech support, SIM card upgrades and replacements, phone purchases, bill payments, data service activations and more.” Carty continues

Infrastructure restoration

When the roof above the core equipment room was damaged by the fallen tower of the main building, the decision was taken to switch off all core equipment. This effectively shut down the entire network to limit further damage from leaking water and wind. After the passing of the storm repairs commenced immediately to secure the core equipment as soon as possible.

The enormous tower was cut into pieces and removed within 48 hours by UTS technicians, assisted by a team of engineers from Neptuno. Soon thereafter, repairs on the roof structure began, securing the core equipment room. All core equipment remained undamaged and at present, all components are back online.  Aside from the damaged tower at the Philipsburg main building, UTS also has a variety of site locations throughout the islands that provide mobile and broadband service. With all sites suffering some form of damage, at present 14 of 29 mobile sites are back up and running and 14 of 40 broadband internet sites are back online as well.

Additional equipment is also on-order to allow for restoration of additional sites, which means that UTS will continue to work full-time on the rebuilding process in the coming weeks and months to serve our communities.

Mobile service status

Within the current mobile coverage areas, all local and international calls are possible, as well as mobile internet using 3G and 4G LTE mobile technologies. The older, 2G based network has not been turned back on following Irma, due to malfunctioning of key network components.

At present the company is working on the logistics to move all customers that may have still been using this outdated technology to the newer faster 3G and 4G networks instead. “We are confident that they will be pleased with this. They will be able to do so much more with their mobile internet service because of the faster speeds they will be able to achieve.” Carty continues. “We invite customers that want to move to these new networks immediately to contact us so that we can assess if a change in SIM card is needed. Often it isn’t even necessary”  

Broadband Internet status

With 14 sites of the company’s newest broadband technology, PMP450, currently online, and more site restorations planned, the amount of broadband customers coming back online is increasing daily as well. The older WiMax technology based network suffered considerable damage following hurricane Irma. UTS is currently evaluating an LTE-based solution for those customers that are affected by the outage of Wimax.

“I would once more like to extend my thanks to a fantastic team that continues to work around the clock for our island. In a challenging situation, they took the bull by the horns and handled the business of getting our communications back up and running and getting our islands back on track.” Carty concludes. With additional equipment on the way and a clear plan to restore the island to full service, the UTS team is motivated and positive about the future of St. Maarten and the broader Eastern Caribbean islands.

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NV GEBE Generator Catches Fire. No Injuries Reported

CAPE BAY - This evening at approximately 5.50 p.m. the Emergency Center (919) received several calls with information that the G.E.B.E.- power-plant had caught fire, a Police Report stated on Friday late afternoon.

Immediately numerous police patrols, and Fire Department were sent to investigate the situation.

The traffic was diverted to avoid any traffic and not allow any traffic into Cape Bay. The fire was brought under control by the fire department. According to reports one of the generators had caught fire. No injuries were reported.

As more details become available the media will be informed. (Sint Maarten Police Force)

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Judge extends pre-trial detention for suspects in dual murder case. Looters detention extended

PHILIPSBURG - The investigation “MARS” was treated “pro-forma” on Thursday in the prison at Point Blanche on Sint Maarten, a press release from the Public Prosecution Service disclosed.

“It was decided by the judge that the suspects K.K.K. S. and T.J. F. will remain in prison till the next “pro-forma” on November 15th. “MARS” is the investigation into the murder in December 2016 of the two men Sarante-Diaz and Rosario. T.J.F. and K.S.S.S. They were arrested on February 16 and 17 respectively and are still in pre-trial detention.

“Suspect M.I. was presented before the judge of instruction (rechter-commissaris) for looting. He will remain in custody for the next 8 days.

“Suspect M.M.R. also remains 8 more days in arrest. The judge of instruction decided this on Thursday. She is accused of fencing (heling). She was however released immediately thereafter and will be awaiting her case at home.  Her son, A.R., is a suspect in the murder investigation “BAYONET” and will be presented next before the judge of instruction. All investigations are ongoing.”

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Roof Repairs at Power Plant will lead to Stable Power Supply. Short circuit causes blackout

PHILIPSBURG – NV GEBE announced at a press conference on Thursday that once it repairs roof damage to five buildings at its power plant in Cay Bay, the utility company will be able to provide a more stable power supply throughout the country.

Four generators are currently providing electricity to a number of districts.  None of the company’s generators suffered any damage.  The company also has a sufficient supply of fuel for the aforementioned.

Some of the buildings housing the power generation units of NV GEBE received more damage than others.  On Thursday, the company was generating 12 MW (Megawatts) of electricity out of 55 MW prior to the passing of Hurricane Irma.

A short circuit in the high voltage room caused a country-wide blackout on Wednesday, the day after Hurricane Maria passed to the south of the country.

The company has given priority to connecting schools and hotels back to the electrical grid.

The utility company suffered major damage to its Pondfill Administrative and Customer Service Offices as well as to its Distribution Building.  The company also lost its warehouse during the hurricane.

Most of the companies’ transformer houses are intact.  The companies’ employees are working around the clock to energize as many districts and neighborhoods.  The Chief Executive Officer of the company, Kenrick Chittick, was full of praise to the staff for their diligence during this time of crisis after the national disaster cause by Hurricane Irma on September 6.

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