The International Group of P&I Clubs, ICS, BIMCO and InterManager have drawn attention to recent ship detentions and crew arrests in Mexico, especially in light of a case where illegal narcotics were found onboard and the vessel and crew were detained.
UBC Savannah and the lengthy and continuing detention in custody of the ship’s Master without any formal charges against him, following the discovery of illegal narcotics onboard. For this case, the international industry organizations are engaged with the Mexican authorities in seeking the release of both the Master of the UBC Savannah and those ships currently detained.he warning follows a recent case involving the Cyprus-registered bulk carrier
Since July 2019, the organizations have recorded a number of cases where ships have been detained upon arrival in Mexican ports (in particular Altamira and Ensenada ports), with the ports of departure usually from Ecuador, Colombia or Panama, where illegal narcotics have been found onboard.
In some cases, such detentions and crew arrests have followed when the illegal narcotics have been discovered onboard by the crew and reported in advance at the earliest opportunity to the local authorities at the port of arrival in Mexico.
In this regard, the organizations highlighted that, under the Mexican Federal Code of Criminal Procedure, anyone accused of drug-related offenses must remain in prison for the duration of the pre-trial and trial detention, even if innocent.
Pre-trial and trial detention in Mexico can be lengthy, and further protracted in the current COVID-19 circumstances and this is why the aforementioned organizations have expressed concerns to the Mexican Government “with regard to the apparent indiscriminate application of the Code and the disproportionate approach taken by public prosecutors in the cases of ship and crew detentions“.
Where there is any doubt about specific preventative measures that can be taken by ships both pre-loading, especially if loading from a port in South America, and pre-arrival in Mexico, then contact should be made with the Club,
…the organizations advised.
According to data provided by the London P&I Club, the number of incidents of drug smuggling by ships have increased in recent years and is not limited to Mexico. Countries where drugs are loaded include Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Venezuela, North America, and China.
A recent publication by Representacoes Proinde Ltda., citing data from Brazilian police and customs, identified a substantial increase in the number of occurrences and the amounts of cocaine interdicted in port facilities and aboard vessels in the country.
While drug shipments from Brazil are moved more and more in containers, there is a noticeable rise in the number of cases involving bulk carriers sailing from grain ports with cocaine buried in the bulk cargo, hidden in void spaces or secured to the vessel’s hull, the publication highlights.
Preventing measures on drug smuggling include:
- contacting local agents or the listed Club correspondents for up to date information on the latest preventative/precautionary measures;
- for Operators and Masters of vessels trading on high risks routes, involving Central and South America, to be familiar with and to ensure that their on-board procedures are in line with the IMO Revised Guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of the Smuggling of Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemicals on Ships Engaged in International Maritime Traffic (Resolution FAL.9(34) adopted on 30 March 2007);
- incorporating the BIMCO U.S. Anti-Drug Abuse Act 1986 Clause for Time Charter Parties 2013 into time charters, with appropriate amendments, so that Charterers are generally liable for the costs and delays caused by narcotics concealed onboard the vessel.
UNODC estimates that global consumption of illicit drugs has increased by more than 30% in the past decade, with about 18 million regular cocaine users worldwide.