A resident who claimed that illegal weapons are being smuggled into the BVI in shipping containers that are subsequently cleared, urged Commissioner of Customs Wade Smith to look closely at the import clearance process.
The resident raised a number of gun smuggling allegations during his call to the A Look at the community Program on January 21 where the senior management of Her Majesty’s Customs appeared as guests.
Most interesting, however was the fact that allegations of gun smuggling was raised by more than one caller during that program. The first caller announced: “Customs: they are our first responders, now that there is a bit of a gun problem in the BVI — we don’t sell guns — we don’t make guns. How do you go about clearing up some of those guns? We need a solution! Some people going around saying ‘it’s the same Customs it’s them letting them in, getting payoff. How do you go about clearing up those insults that they say about Customs? How do guns come here when we don’t buy them, we don’t sell them?”
Another caller was bolder in his smuggling claims and declared: “The guns are coming into this Territory we don’t make them we don’t…Where they’re coming from? I believe you need to patrol the waters of the BVI. The government supposed to give you boats to patrol the waters of the BVI when night comes…because dem guns coming in here on dem boats…Everything coming in this country it needs to be scanned, it have scanner that can pick up dirt.”
The caller added: “A certain business here, I understand does bring in trailer and a certain Customs Officer does go to clear his boat, and Mr. Smith you can’t let that happen. Change them, change up the man, them that go to these trailers. Things coming in these trailers in this country and you need to send an officer to scan them. Make sure they’re scan, everything coming into this country scan them from the wharf. I won’t call any name, but I understand the thing come in that particular trailer because a particular Customs officer clears the trailer for that business and you have to step down on these things because these guns coming from outside.”
In response to the serious complaint Commissioner Smith noted that the Territory’s porous borders is a disadvantage in patrolling: “Our geographical location makes it extremely difficult to patrol the waters, we have approximately 40 islands; and we are surrounded approximately by 1300 square miles of water. “Mr. Smith also noted that the situation is compounded by the fact that the BVI is a strategic point that it lies between St Maarten and the US Virgin Islands, ports that basically have direct flights coming from the US and Europe.”
“Guns are basically shipped from the US to the US Virgin Islands without Customs inspections. At that point it becomes extremely difficult for us and we rely tremendously on intelligence from the community. We have to be basically our brother’s keeper and let the authorities know when there are wrong doings,” the Commissioner noted.
In further highlighting the patrol difficulties the Commissioner of Customs said: “Here in the BVI we are considered the sailing capital of the world and in a given year we’ll have over 30,000 entries of boats coming through the waters; there are a number of charter companies number of day trippers number of boats sometimes, it’s almost like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Smith noted that plans are afoot to heighten searches. He further noted that the Customs Department is expecting another K-9 addition which will increase detection: “To aid us in our searches because it is impossible for human officers to conduct those searches so that’s why we are increasing our K9 capabilities, that should aid us a lot along with the intelligence from the community,” he pointed out.
Commissioner Smith also invited the caller who mentioned the containers to visit his office to privately and share what he knows. The resident was also encouraged to share his information through anonymous means if he wished.
As it relates to further tackling the importation/smuggling concerns Assistant Commissioner of Enforcement, Mr. Clinton Romney announced that the Department is planning to collaborate: “We are also looking at collaborating more with the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and also extending our arms to the US Virgin Islands and even Customs in St Maarten and further throughout the region,” he said.
A Road Town observer told this newspaper that a good deterrent would be 10-20 years of detention for those caught with unlicensed firearms.