A machine used to search the hull of ships departing Kingston Wharves has detected illegal drugs 12 times in the past three months, putting a small dent in the very lucrative drug trade and acting as a deterrent to divers involved in this practice.
The machine, known as the 'video ray', which has been operational at the wharf for the past two years, has replaced divers, some of whom were killed for reporting drug findings.
"Over a period of time a number of divers were shot and killed so we had to resort to technology in combatting this scourge of the drug smuggling," said Grantley Stephenson, chairman of Kingston Wharves.
Stephenson, who was taking Minister of Transport Robert Pickersgill on a tour of the facility yesterday, said if the illegal drug goes undetected, ships are detained at their next port and fines imposed. Only recently, he said, a captain was arrested in Trinidad because the drug was found attached to the hull of his ship.
"When these things happen there are implications to our reputation and so it is just as harmful for Jamaica and this is why we exercise all of this due diligence to make sure that ships leaving Jamaica are not contaminated," Stephenson told the Observer.
He said that once the drug has been identified, the information is then handed over to the marine and narcotics police who will dive to recover the drug when the vessel leaves the harbour.
Ship captains, Stephenson said, have been receptive of the technology, which has been helping to prevent their vessels from being seized. He added that when a vessel is found to be 'clean' a copy of the tape is sold to ship captains for them to present at the next port of entry.
"This is also very good as the captains like to come in and watch as we operate the machine so they can see the state of the hull," said Stephenson.
In the past greater emphasis was placed on searching vessels heading towards the United States, but Stephenson said keen interest have also been paid to vessels departing for Trinidad and Barbados. He said these vessels have become targets for drug smugglers who transship the drugs from these ports to the United States. "Vessels coming from this end is usually seen as less suspicious than those coming directly from Jamaica and so that is why they are putting the drugs on these," he said.
Members of the touring party were shown video clippings of the machine at work recently when two 36-inch metal canister were found attached to a ship.
The ship, Stephenson said, was searched and nothing was found. However, about 15 minutes later the ship's captain reported hearing a splash. "When we searched it again the canisters were found because it doesn't take long for divers to attach these things to the ship," he said.
Meanwhile, Stephenson said Kingston Wharves Limited would be putting a system in place which would allow coast guards to immediately destroy canisters once they are found to prevent them ending up in the wrong hands.
Captain John Ulett, managing director of Security Administrators Limited, subsidiary of Kingston Wharves Limited and suppliers of the equipment, yesterday urged persons involved in maritime security to utilise the technology.
He said it has already been introduced to the Jamaican coast guard and the marine police and the Barbados coast guard recently purchased one.
He said the equipment does act as a deterrent although the drug smugglers tend to keep abreast of technology.
"When we introduced the x-ray machines and coverage by CCTV they went to the next level to go under water and use submersibles attached so we have to keep on top of these things," he said.
The video ray equipment has been used in other instances such as a plane crash in Oracabessa, St Mary and by the Hunts Bay Police in conducting a search for two missing women in Greenwich Town last year.
© 2007 The Jaimaca Observer