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Port boss on container protocol: Customs’ job to make key checks
Acting general manager at the Port of Port-of-Spain Sharon Mark says port officials do not see the contents of shipping containers when they arrive at the port. When the containers arrive at the port, their responsibility is to keep the containers safe until they are loaded onto the cargo vessels, she explains. She said the filling and sealing of containers were supposed to be done in the presence of Customs officials at the businesses which were exporting the cargo.
Mark made the comments yesterday, as visiting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials, working alongside local law enforcement authorities, continued their probe into how a $644 million cargo of cocaine left these shores undetected and made its way to Virginia, USA. She was joined by Ricardo Gonzales, manager of container operations, and acting superintendent Kelvin Birch during the interview with the T&T Guardian at the port’s administration building, Dock Road, Port-of-Spain.
DEA officials arrived in T&T earlier this week to tie up loose ends in their investigations, after the illegal cargo was seized at a port in Norfolk, Virginia, on December 20. The cargo left the Port-of-Spain port on November 17. Asked whether the Port of Port-of-Spain was assisting the DEA with its investigation, Birch said: “So far, the foreigners have not approached the port.” He said if they did, “certainly we would support them, we would co-operate with them in dealing with this issue.”
Asked whether the port examines any containers entering the port, Gonzales said: “That is not our jurisdiction, we are the custodian of the cargo. “The request for shipping of the cargo lies with Customs,” he said. “The Customs give approval, we receive the container intact, and we secure the container on the confines of the port. If, for some reason, the container gets open, that is where our security comes in and do an investigation with the assistance of the Customs department.”
Explaining what happens to the container after being filled with goods at a business location, Gonzales says the broker processes the customs documents and once processed, it leaves the business location with the customs document and goes to the port.
“Once the container comes to the port that means it would have got all its approval from customs in a sealed status,” he said.
“We weigh the container, we verify all customs approval have been given, all shipping agent approval have been given, and once we receive that, we accept the container into the port, it’s located in a designated area, and given the port of discharge in association with the various shipping lines and their services.”
Outlining the role of the port’s security when a container arrives at the port, Birch said: “The interaction we would have is when they come with the shipping documents to ensure that it is the right container number, the seal number when we inspect it, is to ensure that it is correct and the right hauler-truck and trailer is on the documents to move the container, the shipping documents would (already) have customs approval.
“The shipping agent would make the booking, they would cut a bill of lading, which is the shipping document that would go to Customs for stamping okay to ship.”