Tuesday 10 December, 2019

Scanners active at POS Port but no guns detected, JSC reveals

Photo: Port scanners at the Pt Lisas port.

Photo: Port scanners at the Pt Lisas port.

Although scanners have been operational at the Port of Port of Spain since October 2018, to date, no guns or drugs have been detected from containers which were scanned.

The information was revealed at a meeting of a Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the prevalence of illegal firearms in Trinidad and Tobago, which took place Wednesday.

Minister in the Ministry of the Legal Affairs and JSC Chairman Fitzgerald Hinds noted from a report by the Crime and Problem Analysis Branch of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) that many illegal weapons actually enter the country through the country’s legitimate ports of entry.

Queries were raised by the JSC into the detection of illegal items at the Port of Port of Spain, however Comptroller of Customs and Excise, Vidyah Marcial, said there were no findings of narcotics or weapons since scans began in October 2018.

Keith Huggins, Assistant Comptroller, said the selection of containers for scanning is done randomly based on the software system Asycuda, which is used internationally.

“That is built into the system. We use Asycuda World, that system is used worldwide and that algorithm will be built into the system based on international standards. All this, what is built in, as well as what is put in by the risk management unit, will determine what is to be scanned or not,” said Huggins.

Paul Richards, JSC Vice-Chairman, asked whether the fact that both scanners, both fixed and mobile, detected no hits did not raise a red flag.

Does that not raise a red flag at all that maybe the system may be flawed in some way? If old method, no hits, new method after two months, no hits…unless we are a very pristine country, I would think that’s a red flag,” he said.

Marcial said however there is an update to the system pending.

“At present there is an update to the migration of the Asycuda system to 4.2.2, so this upgrade, we are hoping, would bring better results,” she said.

Richards noted however that the system’s upgrade is in addition to human elements.

“We are considering all possibilities. We have also introduced training for staff who do examination of the documentation as to what to look for when screening the documents that would trigger a red flag,” she said.

Hinds asked why more containers were not scanned.

“Once the system is in place…we understand you can’t do all…but in the context of Trinidad the numbers were so small…we should have been able to scan every single one. Weren’t we told that? Is there a different view and why?”

Marcial said however there’s a ‘time issue’.

“That is a time issue. We are trying, we have been scanning, so far we have scanned…over 1500 since inception,” she said.

33 containers scanned daily

Ricardo Gonzales, CEO of the Port of Port of Spain, said the fixed scanner has been operational since October 2018 and is functional to date.

Gonzales said an average of 33 containers are scanned daily: 32 through the fixed scanner and others through the mobile scanners which came into operation in January 2019.

Gonzales said however that an average of 227 containers were delivered within the last quarter.

The scanning time for a container takes 30 seconds, but he said there were other processes which contributed to time delays.

“We do an average number of scans of 33 a day. Customs work an average of 7-8 hours, so basically when you look at that you would get something like four containers an hour.”

“Based on the process, that’s what is provided. If the workflow and process changes…that may be inclined to increase,” he said.

He added that a number of containers also go to the CES (Container Examination Section) for examination. From October to December 2018, 1,733 containers went to the CES to be examined.

The JSC noted in 2017 that 1,064 firearms and 18,000 rounds of ammunition were seized.

In 2018, 16,308 rounds of ammunition and 988 illegal firearms were seized.

JSC member Nigel De Freitas said the issue is urgent.

"One one end, the public domain, we are seeing the prevalence of firearms and it is being said that they are coming through the ports, just due to the sheer amount. Because of the amount, it suggests that it's coming through in large caches."

"33 out of 227, and no hits, based on what we are seeing, they are coming in and we need to find it. We know it's coming in because we're seeing it on the tail end and we need to find it," he said. 

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