Sun | Apr 11, 2021

Surveillance curbs smuggling rings, but drug planes still flying in – Chang

Published:Monday | February 8, 2021 | 12:30 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer
Dr Horace Chang, national security minister.
Dr Horace Chang, national security minister.

WESTERN BUREAU:

Drug and gun smugglers continue to breach Jamaica’s borders, but the country’s air and marine surveillance infrastructure has reduced the number of contraband runs into the island, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang has said.

Chang’s comment comes in the wake of high interest in a deregistered 12-seater plane that crash-landed in the shallows of the Rocky Point beach in Clarendon in January. Questions have arisen about whether the plane was on a drug mission.

Chang, who is also the national security minister, reported that illegal drug trans-shipment planes are still flying in and out of the country but not as frequently they once did.

“Look, we are aware that planes are flying through the Jamaica space, and a lot of illegal ones are going through as well. Some, once they realise that we identify them, they will change route, and others get through the system,” said Chang in a Gleaner interview on Friday in his St James North Western constituency.

Chang said that Jamaica has had to endure the presence of contraband smuggling planes for several decades without being able to effectively prevent forays and apprehend the persons involved before now. But he has credited the $40-billion investment over four years in shoring up the national security architecture, including the procurement of aircraft and seagoing vessels, as crucial to the country’s anti-crime fight.

“That is a fact we have been living with for a long time. It is much less than it used to be when planes used to land in Jamaica on a daily basis,” the minister said of drugrunners.

“The reality is, in my early years, they not only used to fly out on a daily basis, they used to crash along the coastline on a weekly basis.”

EQUIPMENT BOOST

The Jamaica Defence Force’s aerial and maritime capabilities have been significantly boosted with the acquisition of new surveillance aircraft. The Beechcraft King Air 350 WR maritime patrol aircraft and two Bell 429 helicopters were commissioned into service in 2018.

A year earlier, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard received two new maritime offshore surveillance vessels to increase its activities in protecting the island’s borders with the HMJS Cornwall and HMJS Middlesex. Together, they have been employed in fulfilling the traditional roles of the JDF Coast Guard, including search and rescue, fisheries protection, maritime law enforcement, marine environmental pollution control, coastal surveillance, and anti-smuggling and drug interdiction, among other critical services.

Jamaica continued to synchronise its national-security activities with international partners that had much deeper investments in equipment and human resources, said Chang. The United States was named a key stakeholder in those multilateral relationships.

“What the country can be assured is that we know when they (illegal drug planes) are coming in. We know where they go, and we monitor that situation,” the national security minister stated.

On January 23, a deregistered plane domiciled in Mexico crash-landed on the Clarendon beach. Its occupants, believed to be two or three foreign nationals, have since disappeared without a trace.

Last Friday, Chang, who remained tight-lipped on the identities of the pilot and passengers, reiterated that there was no indication that illegal drugs were on the plane.

“It’s an empty plane, and pretty soon, if the right people find it, they will convert it to a Dutch pot,” Chang quipped, hinting that scrap-metal traders might have interest in recycling.

“... The men who flew in would have had their connection locally and would have disappeared in time, I suspected. But otherwise, the security forces have enough information to work on, which I will not discuss now, in terms of where they are coming from, what they were going to do.”

Chang said the security forces are aware of some of the small and major players in smuggling rings but cautioned that nabbing them would require a series of long-term investigations.

“We know a number of them and whether they are apprehended in here or the bigger players overseas, there are a lot of investigations to get done when a plane crashes. Sometimes it takes years of investigations to pin the evidence on to the particular individuals,” he said.

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