JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Jamaica’s fight against the illicit narcotics trade, particularly across international waters, is expected to be significantly strengthened through an amendment to the Maritime Drug Trafficking Suppression Act.
  • The Bill grants the Minister of National Security, the power to waive Jamaica’s right to exercise jurisdiction over Jamaican nationals who are detained on a Jamaican vessel by the law enforcement authorities of a treaty State, in international waters.
  • Portfolio Minister, Hon. Peter Bunting, who piloted the Bill, said this amendment to the law will lead to higher success rates in the prosecution of suspected traffickers.

Jamaica’s fight against the illicit narcotics trade, particularly across international waters, is expected to be significantly strengthened through an amendment to the Maritime Drug Trafficking Suppression Act.

The Bill, which was approved in the House of Representatives on September 2, grants the Minister of National Security, the power to waive Jamaica’s right to exercise jurisdiction over Jamaican nationals who are detained on a Jamaican vessel by the law enforcement authorities of a treaty State, in international waters.

Portfolio Minister, Hon. Peter Bunting, who piloted the Bill, said this amendment to the law will lead to higher success rates in the prosecution of suspected traffickers.

He noted that Jamaica’s procedures regarding suspects are usually time consuming and in most cases, prosecutions are unsuccessful, given the various challenges normally encountered with these matters.

“There is a practice in our court that all the contraband found aboard vessels are required to be tendered into evidence. The tendering into evidence of the entire cargo of contraband, is logistically difficult, since the custody of the contraband and indeed the vessel is usually detained by the treaty State and in some cases, the cargo may amount to thousands of pounds,” the Minister pointed out.

Mr. Bunting noted as well, that law enforcement officers of the respective treaty States who were involved in the operation are required to attend and give evidence in court in Jamaica. He pointed out, however, that it is unlikely that these officers would be available to attend court, especially given the nature of their job.

“As a result of the limitations on Jamaica’s ability to successfully prosecute these cases, Jamaica’s national security is compromised. In addition, it also gives a perception of unwillingness by Jamaica to co-operate with its international partners, as well as the suggestion that Jamaica is a relative safe haven where drug traffickers can escape the reach of international law enforcement,” he said.

Mr. Bunting noted that it was also costly to collect drug traffickers from the detained vessels at sea.

“The Jamaican Coast Guard usually has to sail out to a point to collect these criminals from the British Coast Guard or United States (US) Navy as the case may be, and sometimes they can spend fuel in excess of  $1 million  to go and give these drug traffickers a free ride back  home. It is a travesty,” he lamented.

The Minister noted that the Bill will serve to enhance the co-operation between Jamaica and its international partners in combating illicit maritime drug trafficking.

Jamaica is a party to the 1998 United Nations (UN) Convention Against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Under this Convention, state parties are required to co-operate through bi-lateral or multilateral arrangements, enhancing the effectiveness of suppressing illicit maritime trafficking in drugs and to enact the necessary legislative and administrative measures to achieve same.