From Hummers to sugar cane, customs have seen it all

 As you might imagine, HM Customs Cayman have seen a few things over the years. The body that protects the borders and collects duty has their work cut out in the Cayman Islands, with restricted goods having not just a social impact but an economic one.
Langlie Powery is training manager at the customs service, and he explained that without customs to monitor the flow of goods into Cayman, the impact would be potentially an intense one as unrestricted availability would flood the market and destroy the economy. This is one of the sides of customs that people rarely think about, he said, but a very important socio-economic duty nonetheless.
 says the officer.

Can you dig it
Over the years. people have been inventive in the way they have tried trying to smuggle goods into the country, says Powery.
“We had someone who cut the spine of a book open, put ganja in on the top and the bottom, stuck it back together and tried to come through. The book was called Cultivation. We have had swallowers but also stuffers, people with ganja, cocaine, male and females. We’ve come across all of that.
“When Jamaica had a ban on taking money out of their country we saw people take the stem out of a pumpkin, dig out the flesh and fill it with cash. When you used to be able to bring in sugar cane unpeeled people used to slice part of the peel, dig out on the inside, roll the money up and stick it in there. We’ve had many different ways of smuggling over the years,” says the customs training officer, who noted that over the years such items as Voodoo dolls had been recovered.
Powery cited a case where two German nationals had been caught smuggling rare animals including centipedes, lizards, land turtles, frogs and spiders. The animals had been sedated for shipping to Europe on the black market, he says, but the apprehended individuals were given a significant fine and the animals were sent back to their natural habitats.
Some animals from the lists of the convention on international trade in endangered species of fauna and flora make regular appearances as foodstuffs, including, explains the official, iguana from Honduras.
“People bring curried iguana which they tell you is chicken and turtle meat which they say is beef, without realising that our experience in knowing what these look like will stop it getting through,”observes Powery.

Superfly
On the prohibited lists are everything from firearms and drugs to certain vegetation. Even mangoes are restricted, such as the East Indian mango which has whitefly; all fruit and vegetable produce has to have a particular sanitary certificate.
One particular prohibited item that might surprise some people is the H1 Hummer. This is because, pre-Ivan, an owner brought one of the semi-amphibious vehicles onto the island and caused quite a stir.
“The owner, who will remain nameless, proceeded to test one out on Seven Mile Beach near the Governor’s Residence. As the vehicle has a snorkel, they then decided to drive around in the sea – there were lots of tourists around and police turned up. The H1 was prohibited after that, and we seized the next Hummer that came in. As it happened it was the H2 which is made for the normal roads whilst H1 is a military vehicle so we released it,” explains Powery, who adds that prefabricated buildings are not allowed but engineered buildings that meet the requirements are fine. This is because pre-built structures can become projectiles in a hurricane, he says.
Double-decker buses are also prohibited because of the height that the old power lines used to be at, he continues, whilst any taxi or passenger bus coming on-island must have their customer doors on the left of the vehicle rather than the right – to avoid passengers disembarking into the middle of a road.

Suspicious minds
Essentially, wherever there’s space (in a luggage item, for example), there’s suspicion, so officials are also trained in behavioural analysis, with physical analysis often the first indicator of possible smuggling.
“The International Chamber of Commerce has come up with the figure that 90 per cent of international trade is legitimate – it’s the 10 per cent we have to worry about.
“We also deal with cargo, and are in the process of introducing a new computer system to facilitate the movement of goods. We are the best in the region in the speed of getting hold of your goods from the boats already but this new system of electronic submission of documents and payment processing, subject to preferred customer status, will speed things up even more,” he says.
The world does not stand still, but be it chasing iguanas or installing state-of-the-art computer systems, Cayman customs are intending to be there at the forefront.

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