Coast Guard divers to inspect ships
INDI MCLYMONT, Observer staff reporter
PRIME Minister P J Patterson announced yesterday that the military will take over the underwater inspection of ships in Jamaica's harbours for contraband, removing the job from civilians -- three of whom have been murdered this year.
At the same time, the prime minister promised to throw technology at the problem of security at the ports, particularly Kingston, the home of the busy and lucrative transshipment port.
"Recently, three men who were diving to make sure that our vessels did not have any unwarranted attachments to their bottoms, lost their lives in tragic circumstances," Patterson said at a function to mark the completion of a US$100-million expansion of the transshipment port.
"I am going to be insisting that we do not put any more civilian lives at risk in this way," the prime minister added. "We will have to get the JDF and the Coast Guard to be involved in this operation and we are going to introduce whatever equipment is necessary because we are going to beat the criminals."
What was opened yesterday was the third phase of the expansion of the port since the mid-1990s, to increase its container capacity by 400,000 to 1.2 million.
The development has 14 hectares of paved container parking area, 542 metres of berthing space, as well as the most modern of lifting facilities:
Jamaica has emerged as a significant transshipment port for drugs headed for the United States from South America and these, plus marijuana originating in the island, have, from time-to-time, contaminated cargo from the island's ports. In some cases, affected shipping lines, which have been forced to pay huge penalty fines by the Americans, have pulled out of the island.
Some of the illegal guns and ammunition that come to Jamaica are believed to pass through the ports, hidden in other cargo.
Notwithstanding these problems, the Port of Kingston has grown into one of the region's most important transshipment facilities, handling 800,000 containers a year and earning the country millions of dollars.
But Patterson warned that this could disappear if the security problem was not tackled.
"We run the risk of destroying in a short time, all that we have achieved in many years if we do not achieve absolute and uncompromised security at all our ports of entry," he said.
Patterson said that there had to be constant reviews and upgrading of the port security system, as criminals were becoming more technologically-advanced in their operations. There were also other concerns.
"The tragic events of September 11, 2001, have compelled us to focus on circumstances, which are outside the market competition, which have threatened our survival," the prime minister said. "We cannot compromise the integrity of our transshipment and export cargo. We have to protect and secure our borders, coastlines and airspace."
Among the measures being taken by Jamaica, Patterson said, were:
Additionally, he said, X-ray machines and a comprehensive camera system for the inspection of cargo would be introduced soon.