Customs, security partners recommit to securing Jamaica’s borders
The Jamaica Customs Agency and its security partners have recommitted to securing the island’s borders against the trafficking of illicit drugs and arms after an 18-month disruption of the Seaport Cooperation Project (SEACOP) by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SEACOP memorandum of understanding (MOU) which was signed by the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Jamaica Defence Force, Ministry of National Security (MNS), JCA, and France’s public international cooperation agency – Expertise France, on Tuesday at the MNS, was the step to combat transnational crime and ensure border security.
In May 2021, SEACOP officially began its fifth phase of implementation with the goal to aid in the fight against illegal marine trade and related criminal networks in Latin America, West Africa and Caribbean countries like Jamaica.
In line with human trafficking, the project also aims to reduce the detrimental impact of illicit trafficking on security, public health, and socio-economic development.
It is intended that the collaboration will also improve existing and new SEACOP joint maritime control units and intelligence units in new areas of expertise and the know-how to combat maritime and riverine illicit trafficking.
The European Union Service for Foreign Policy Instruments committed €5 million to the project. The project will conclude in December of 2023.
In her remarks, Kalista Powell, director of intelligence at Jamaica Customs, highlighted the maritime domain as a key area of concern, describing it as a large body of smuggled products which are often hidden amid legitimate cargo in containers, cargo vessels, shipping vessels, or recreational crafts.
She went on to say that as the JCA is an important partner in the fight against transnational crime, the agency will “continue to work tirelessly to address threats to border security, encourage creative problem-solving, increase training opportunities, and bolster information, data, and intelligence sharing”.
Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson, who was also present, informed The Gleaner that with guns, illicit goods and other contraband slipping through the cracks of the system, the partnership was of utmost importance as it also contributes in giving on-the-ground support at the ports.
“We see it as a very important part of strengthening our border protection operations, obviously, as we’ve seen from our interdictions, we see guns coming through the ports, we see drugs coming through the ports and of course illicit goods,” Anderson said.
“Now, as we come out of it,” he said, referencing the pandemic’s impact on joint initiatives like this one, “we are trying to as quickly as possible to get everything up and running,” he said.
Anderson added that it was critical that operations were rejuvenated so as to be fully prepared for whatever comes next.
In March 2022, Commissioner of JCA Velma Ricketts-Walker reported that in the past six years, the agency had seized 211 guns, roughly 20,000 rounds of ammunition and 235 magazines at the border.