HIGH HAUL: Law enforcement officers secure compressed marijuana discovered in a freight container on the Point Lisas port on Thursday night. (Faces have been blurred to protect the officers' identities).—Photos: DEXTER PHILIP

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$30m DRUG BUST

Ganja seized among frozen chicken at Point Lisas

By Akile Simon

CUSTOMS and Excise Division officers late on Thursday discovered compressed marijuana valued at more than $30 million concealed in a refrigerated container at the Point Lisas port.

Officers believe they have disrupted a major drug-smuggling operation at the port following the discovery, the biggest drug seizure in the country for the year.

It's the third multi-million-dollar drug interdiction at the port for the year. In all of the cases, the containers with the narcotics passed through a port in Jamaica. On Thursday evening, it took officers several hours to carefully examine and tag each of the 38 crocus bags containing the illegal drug.

A senior Custom source told the Express they were carrying out routine checks together with port security on 32 containers that arrived in the country when they made the discovery.

The marijuana was found in the 31st container hidden among frozen chicken parts. The container had left the United States on board a cargo ship, but had stopped off in Jamaica. Customs sources believe the marijuana was stashed inside the container in Jamaica. Portions of the original cargo in the container were removed and replaced with the marijuana to ensure there was no change in the original weight of the cargo, sources said.

The container, which had arrived two days before on the vessel Vega Saturn, belongs to a Central businessman, but Customs sources were unable to say if he had knowledge of the drug.

"Based on intelligence, we search containers which we find suspicious but there are containers from different countries. We target mainly those from Jamaica and Guyana and then other countries," a Customs source said.

Ian Atherly, chairman of port operator Plipdeco, who was at the scene of Thursday's bust, promised the port would do all in its power to stop the illegal flow of narcotics through its facility, admitting the fight is a very difficult one.

"We can't stop anyone from sending drugs but once they arrive here the prerogative, onus, responsibility is on us to ensure it does not leave the port," Atherly said.

Communications specialist at the Customs and Excise Division, Alicia Charles, in a press release yesterday, stated that Customs officers, in conjunction with Port security, discovered close to one tonne of compressed marijuana in an enclosed 40-foot container at the Port of Point Lisas.

On opening the container, which was said to contain frozen chicken parts, Charles said officers found 38 crocus bags of compressed marijuana weighing over 921 kilogrammes.

Charles said Customs officials have estimated the value of the drug at $7.4 million.

"This seizure is part of an ongoing joint operation between the Customs and Excise Division and Point Lisas port security which started at the beginning of the year. Containers that come into the port which fit a particular profile are singled out for inspection," Charles said.

She added investigations into the drug bust remain ongoing by officers from the Organised Crime, Narcotics and Firearms Bureau, the Criminal Intelligence Unit, and Customs and Excise Division in an attempt to determine the persons responsible for the shipment.

Also visiting the scene were Snr Supt John Martinez and Acting Supt Johnnie Abraham.

At yesterday's daily police media briefing, ASP Joanne Archie, public information officer at the police Public Affairs Unit, declined to say whether Thursday's seizure could cause any bloodshed among gangs.

"I cannot comment on that. I really cannot comment on that," Archie said when pressed for comment by reporters.

Last month, cocaine valued at $22 million was seized at Piarco International Airport following which there was a spate of murders.

Nathaniel Bowen, a 19-year-old employee with Servisair, was denied bail when he appeared before Arima Senior Magistrate Indra Ramoo-Haynes charged with possession of the 54 kilogrammes of cocaine.

Bowen, of Carib Homes, Victory Street, Arima, was refused bail and is expected to reappear in court on Monday.

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