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By ANDRE BAGOO Friday, January 24 2014

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TRANSPORT Minister Stephen Cadiz yesterday outlined a series of measures aimed at “locking down” the nation’s ports in order to block the flow of illicit goods, particularly in transit between Trinidad and Tobago.

“Every single area that we can lock down we will be doing that,” Cadiz stated, fielding questions at a post-Cabinet media briefing held at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair. “We have to close off every single area that we can find. Whether or not we are dealing with illicit goods going from outside and then directly into Tobago or coming from Trinidad into Tobago or from Tobago into Trinidad, it does not matter. We will close off all those holes that we can find. We will block them.”

Cadiz said:

• two $20 million vehicle scanners will be acquired in relation to movement between Trinidad and Tobago;

• the Maritime Services Division will be beefed up so that even pleasure crafts will be subject to greater monitoring;

 • it is time to employ a specialist K9 unit on both imports and exports;

• airport scanners will be upgraded and CCTV and other forms of security at airports tightened.

Some of the measures were given a time-frame of implementation of between four to six months.

“I think you are going to see a marked difference in how we secure these various ports,” Cadiz said. “It’s an all-out effort on every single area that we will be looking at.”

The Minister said while the focus has recently been on exports from Trinidad to other countries, there is a clear related problem of the shipment of illicit items between Trinidad and Tobago.

“It is known that there are guns in Tobago and neither Trinidad nor Tobago have any manufacturing facility for firearms,” Cadiz said.

“It’s obvious that those kinds of things, especially guns, are coming in from elsewhere.” He said Cabinet decided to go forward with plans, outlined in the 2013/2014 Budget, to acquire two scanners for vehicles moved between the islands.

“The vehicle scanners were part and parcel of the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) for the current fiscal year and therefore yesterday we made the decision that they will be going ahead to do the tendering process for the purchase of these vehicle scanners,” he said.

Cadiz said a new system, based in Trinidad, will be implemented to track yachts.

“We will be beefing up the Maritime Services Division so we can monitor all activity in our waters and also to be able to look at pleasure craft...who is coming in, where are they moored, what are they doing, who is coming alongside,” he said.

“We are actively pursuing that area. It’s called the Vessel Management Tracking System which will be installed in Trinidad to be able to manage our seas better, especially the Gulf of Paria,” Minister Cadiz said at yesterday’s post Cabinet press conference.

Of the use of a K9 Unit at all airports in the country, Minister Cadiz said, “In airports all over the world you see a K9 unit operating both for passengers departing and for passengers arriving and that’s not rocket science.” “Between the vehicle scanners and the container scanners, a well-managed and effective K9 unit is part and parcel of a secure system.”

Minister Cadiz said new scanners would be introduced at airports.

“Right now, going into the airport we are using fairly outdated scanners,” he said. “We are going to improve that. We are going to improve on the technology at the airport. We need to have CCTV cameras right through the entire airport, better management of exits, to see who is getting access passes so we can ensure proper background checks...again working in tandem with Customs and Excise and Immigration.”

The Minister’s announcements came amid concern over the standard of scrutiny at the nation’s ports in the wake of two incidents involving packages which appeared to be Trinidad and Tobago goods being used to ship cocaine, which raised questions over what procedures are in place to scrutinise cargo, particularly cargo containers.

Earlier this week, police officials started an investigation into the seizure of $640 million in cocaine found concealed in tins bearing false labels of Trinidad Fruit Juice Company products at the Norfolk Port in Virgina, United States of America, last December was ongoing. The products were reportedly shipped in a cargo container.

Minister of Trade and Industry Vasant Bharath on Monday stated that a container scanner had arrived for the Port of Port-of-Spain last December and there have been plans for other scanners to be put in use at Point Lisas.

In an immediate reaction to the Transport Minister’s announcements yesterday, President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Moonilal Lalchan welcomed the proposals. However, he noted any measure must be efficient and must not slow down the business of ports.

“These measures will be welcomed once the system does not cause bottlenecks and you have a smooth flow of containers especially when it comes to trade between Trinidad and Tobago,” Lalchan said. “Businesses already suffer given problems at ports and it will be a concern of ours if this worsens. When you look internationally with what takes place regarding security and intelligence, they are able to do their checks efficiently. However, anything to alleviate the movement of drugs we will welcome,” Lalchan told Newsday.

Cadiz said steps have to be taken to stem the shipment of drugs.

“It is a known fact that Trinidad and Tobago has been a transshipment area for drugs,” the minister said.

“Measures will have to be put into place. Whether it is every single export being checked or whether this can be done on a random basis, something must be done. We have to also focus on gathering intelligence. You might have to do it in a scientific way to ensure our borders are secured,” Cadiz said.

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