Review of port operations planned Michael Weeks
Government may team up with private partners to form a specialist anti-drug importation team to monitor cruise ship ports, it announced yesterday.
According to Minister without Portfolio Michael Weeks, the move should enhance monitoring of cruise ships, as drug smugglers find it too easy to exploit loopholes in the current system.
He made the remarks as he outlined the new department of border control during the debate on this year's $100 million budget for the Ministry of National Security.
He explained that Customs officials are facing an increased demand; having to deal with travellers arriving at the airport while providing 24-hour-a-day monitoring of cruise ships and yacht arrivals.
“This has resulted in the department being forced to reassign officers from the commercial areas to the enforcement areas with a consequential increase in overtime costs,” he explained.
“Additionally there has been an increased demand on the department to ensure that border controls are effectively stemming the threat of terrorism and illicit goods including drugs and firearms.
“Cruise ships are in port seven days per week which provides drug importers with an extended period of time to offload or land their illicit drugs or firearms into Bermuda.”
Mr Weeks said the department has to analyse which ships pose the highest risk in order to target them for inspection or observation.
“This approach has proven to be successful. However, there is a need to create another specialised team to stem the threat. Bermuda is a small Island and communications are excellent. It doesn't take long for a potential drug smuggler to identify the officers assigned to the specialised unit or units.
“Smugglers monitor where the team is working on a given day and take advantage of the window of opportunity to import their drugs on a different day or by a different means.
“There are a number of crew members working on several ships as a team involved in the drug trade. If one ship is being inspected in the west, the risk exists for the crew on the ship in the east to import drugs, avoiding customs controls.
“Therefore the Minister of National Security has indicated that there will be a review of port operations to close any gaps in the border controls. This will include the option for a public-private initiative that will enhance the controls of cruise ship terminals.”
Mr Weeks did not give any further information on who the private partners will be, or what their role will entail.
However, he went on to note that contraband can also be smuggled in marine cargo containers and this is an “extremely vulnerable” area.
“It is common knowledge among local individuals involved in the illicit drug trade trade that customs enforcement resources are limited and fully committed during the cruise ship season.”
He added that when investigations are completed effectively, it places additional demands on staff as files for court cases have to be complete. This means increased overtime costs and a shortage of staff at key points of interest.
“As part of the review of policies and procedures, the department of border control will work with the Bermuda Police Service and Attorney General's Chambers to look at options for streamlining the procedures for dealing with personal use seizures of drugs, thereby freeing up the staff to deal with imports of drugs and supply,” he expained.
Again, he did not go into specifics. However, Director of Public Prosecutions Rory Field told
The Royal Gazette last October that people caught for minor crimes such as possessing small amounts of cannabis can now be offered Police cautions, saving them from a court case and a criminal conviction.
Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox announced in November that her Finance Ministry will handle revenue collection for HM Customs in future, but responsibilities for border control and stemming the flow of drugs and firearms into Bermuda will come under the new Ministry of National Security, led by David Burch.
A new department of border control has been created, which has been allocated $9.1 million in this year's budget. The Ministry of National Security has suffered an overall budget cut of four percent. It also encompasses the services including the Regiment, police and fire brigade.
Mr Weeks acted as stand in for Sen. David Burch during the debate in the lower house. He explained that 19 jobs remain unfilled across the Customs department and these have not been funded in the 2011/12 budget.
Of those, ten of the vacant posts come under the Ministry of Finance and the rest under the Ministry of National Security.
“Customs has remained within the established, approved budget for 2010/11 but met this objective by using funding for vacant posts to cover overtime costs and additional funds required to cover the increased costs associated with enforcement activity directly linked to drug importation and followup investigations,” he explained.