Huge fines for container tampering

    George Town port 300x250

    Individuals or businesses that open sealed cargo containers prior to their inspection by customs officers could soon face fines of $100,000 upon conviction.  

    The fine, proposed as part of an amendment to the Customs Law, would raise the current fine of $1,000 for opening sealed containers by 100-fold. It seeks to eliminate what’s been a continuous problem for customs during the past 15 years, according to customs officials.  

    The proposal is due to come before the Legislative Assembly as early as next month.  

    According to Customs Collector Carlon Powery, individual containers shipped to the Cayman Islands are often sent to the business property or even the homeowner’s residence – partly because of available space issues and partly to facilitate business operations. Often those containers are taped off or even locked prior to customs officers arriving on the property to inspect the cargo and collect appropriate duty for the items.  

    Customs officers will sometimes arrive to conduct the inspection and find the containers have been opened, Mr. Powery said.  

    “We have no means of knowing whether anything has been removed,” Mr. Powery said, adding customs does receive cargo manifests, but those documents don’t always list exactly what is in the container.  

    Given the relatively low current fine for breaking the cargo container seals, the customs collector said it is often more profitable for a company or resident to break the law and pay the $1,000 fine, rather than pay thousands of dollars more in duty on items that may have been removed.  

    Also, Mr. Powery said if any contraband was within the container it could easily be removed without much cost or risk to the receiver.  

    “We’ve not been having any problem with the majority of importers,” he said. “But … there are other people who seek to break the law.”  

    Only individual containers are shipped off-site, Mr. Powery said. Any consolidated cargo, containers that have items from several individuals or businesses combined are all off-loaded at the customs cargo distribution centre in George Town.  

    The Customs (Amendment) Bill, 2011, would allow for the $100,000 fine to be levied if “any container in customs charge is opened before the goods have been duly customed and the matter is not explained to the satisfaction of the proper officer”.  


    Cargo scanner 

    Mr. Powery admitted, even at the best of times, customs cannot inspect every cargo container coming into the country via the port or the airport.  

    To increase officers’ proficiency, a new scanning device was purchased by the Cayman Islands Customs Department that will be able to perform non-intrusive checks of cars and small watercraft, as well as cargo entering the country through the port.  

    Smiths Detection company announced in late August it had been awarded a contract to supply the Cayman Islands with a cargo inspection X-ray scanner system.  

    The entire purchase for the contract was more than US$3 million, said Jeff Jackson, assistant customs collector.  

    That includes not only the larger mobile scanner, but three standard scanners the customs office will place at the airport post office, the port cargo distribution centre and at the customs warehouse. 

    George Town port

    The port in George Town


    1. For a Cargo X-Ray Scanner? Are they crazy? And how much for maintenance and repairs? What about the danger to humans from such powerful scanners? How about hiring more custom’s inspectors — providing gainful employment and helping OUR economy — not sending the money off to the USA when we so desperately need it here. At a salary of 50K a year, you could hire 10 inspectors (500,000) and keep them employed full time for the next 6 years. Ahhh, but what then you ask? Well, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the extra money they make from getting more revenue from imports will more than pay for their salaries from then on. It’s a bit of a joke this container duty situation — a well known fact that you can offload a lot of stuff and not pay a cent duty on it. Raising the fine to 100K will just mean people will find other ways around breaking the seal. 10 Live inspectors on the dock will earn their pay.

    2. A needed amendment.

      But how will you address custom agents authorizing individual to open container themselves. We all know that it is done.. I know because I saw it happened. Customs tight schedules and owners screaming for their goods and threat of suit if all their plants die in the sweltering heat all cause the rules to be relaxed. Hopefully customs has a quick reaction force as a fill gap for agents falling behind because of work-load sick leave and the like.. People are opening these containers more because they need their goods to sell or to work than to evade customs I believe.. Timely inspections will be even more important now..

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