Thu | Feb 25, 2021

US says sorry - Gov’t slapped with ‘sold out’ label as Shiprider Agreement takes centre stage in Senate

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2021 | 7:17 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Johnson Smith
Johnson Smith

With tension simmering in Jamaica over a controversial decision by the United States authorities to nab four Jamaican men and destroy their boat, alleging it was carrying cocaine, high-level talks between the two countries are now under way to make amendments to the Shiprider Agreement which is at the centre of the wrangle.

The Shiprider Agreement allows the United States and Jamaican law enforcers, with the permission of either party, to intercept suspect vessels in each other’s territorial waters, to apprehend vessels and crew.

It also provides for the waiver of prosecutorial jurisdiction over the island’s citizens.

The men – Anthony Clark (captain), Radcliffe Simmons, Howard Patterson and Warren Rowe – have reportedly been left traumatised by their detention, which started on October 11 last year when their boat, Lady Lawla, was boarded by the United States Coast Guard.

They were, however, released after a Florida judge determined that the containers were proven to have only gasolene.

The men landed in Jamaica on December 31, last year, after being detained for two months in the US without charge.

A year and a half ago, in the midst of revelations of the trammelling and mistreatment of five fishermen by the US Coast Guard, the foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, promised a review of Jamaica’s Shiprider Agreement with the United States.

Johnson Smith updated the Senate on the ongoing discussions which led to sharp rebukes from the Opposition which accused the Government of selling out Jamaicans.

She outlined that there are several areas of the agreement which can be improved.

“One, following search and boarding of intercepted vessels, and two relating to the status of nationals from the time of grant of the waiver up to the outcome of any legal or judicial action pursued against them,” Johnson Smith stated.

The foreign affairs minister told the Senate that the US authorities have apologised for its handling of what turned out to be a nightmare for the Jamaicans.

“The Jamaican Government expressed in very clear terms certain steps key to bridging gaps in implementation as well as its strong disappointment at recent developments including the failure of the US authorities to communicate critical information on the dismissal of the case as envisaged by the agreement.

“I am pleased, however, to advise that the bilateral engagement was constructive and frank and undertaken in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. Apologies were extended to the Jamaican side by the United States regarding the handling of the matter,” Johnson Smith told the Senate.

But in a charged segment of yesterday’s sitting, Opposition Senator Lambert Brown knocked the Government hard for the ordeal.

He said the Government did not act appropriately and “sold out Jamaican interest in this matter”.

In response, State Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Leslie Campbell, accused Brown of breaching Senate rules and demanded that Brown withdraw the comments.

To add to the response, Johnson Smith made it clear that it was the then People’s National Party administration whose term ended in 2016 that inserted provisions for the US to take over prosecutorial jurisdiction in matters involving Jamaicans on the high seas.

“If Senator Brown has any sense of that the Jamaican people have been sold out by anyone, he should speak to his current leader of Opposition business in the Senate (Peter Bunting) and the Opposition in its entirety because it is they who brought the law that allows for waiver over any Jamaican national.”

However, Brown rebutted and asserted the law allowed for discretion.

“You exercised the discretion; you transmitted the information. It is your Government who have sold the people out,” Brown insisted as he hit back at Johnson Smith.

For his part, Bunting expressed concern that the Jamaican fishermen were left languishing in the US close to two weeks after their case was dismissed.

He contended that had it not been for media reports, the men would perhaps still be languishing in US detention.

“So, I am concerned, and this has really not so much to do with the US side but on the Jamaican side, given that the consulate had been alerted and they should have been monitoring the progress of this case, that weeks should pass and almost by accident our Ministry of Foreign Affairs learns of this,” Bunting stated, as he chided the foreign ministry.