Customs officers increase focus on drug trafficking

Statistics show limited seizures

Customs officers are stepping up enforcement at Cayman’s ports amid concerns that drugs and other contraband are slipping through the cracks. 

Just 43 grams of cannabis – with a street value of less than $400 – and 5.5 kilograms of cocaine, potentially worth more than $100,000, were confiscated at the airport, seaport and cargo distribution center combined in 2013. 

Marlon Bodden, a former detective chief inspector of Cayman’s drugs task force, has been appointed as deputy customs collector with a remit to increase enforcement on the borders. 

Though the majority of illegal drugs coming into Cayman are believed to arrive through the porous marine border in yachts, speedboats or canoes, Mr. Bodden believes more can be done to tighten up at the official points of entry.  

“From what I am observing, we appear to be quite weak in our intervention efforts in that area. We have been very focused on revenue collection, which remains an important role, but going forward, there will be a lot of emphasis on enforcement,” he said. 

“That is one of the reasons I am involved. I will have the strategic lead on that with the aim of making Cayman a hostile environment for drug traffickers.” 

He said enforcement efforts would not just focus on illegal drugs but also on legal items, like cigarettes, trafficked into the country to avoid taxes. 

The quantities of drugs confiscated at Cayman’s points of entry over the last five years are miniscule. 

A total of 145 grams of cannabis was intercepted at the airport between 2009 and 2013. Nearly 1,400 grams was confiscated at the seaport – still a small amount, compared with the level of drug trade and drug-related crime in the Cayman Islands. By comparison, police confiscated 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of cannabis in a routine bust in Bodden Town last week – that’s five times the amount stopped at the airport and seaport combined over the past five years. The only significant drug bust recorded at the ports in that time period was the confiscation of 2,530 pounds (around 1,150 kilograms) of cannabis, valued at around $1.2 million, at the cargo distribution center in 2009.  

Last year’s 5.5 kilogram cocaine haul, from a single seizure, at the airport was the biggest total in five years. Only 7.75 kilos of cocaine have been intercepted since 2009. A further 145 grams came through the seaport. Cocaine in the U.S. is sold for between $20,000 and $30,000 per kilo. Cayman prices are believed to be roughly similar. 

Mr. Bodden said the relatively small number of seizures – 26 at the seaport, 12 at the airport and one at the cargo distribution center – over a five-year period could mean that almost no drugs were coming into the Cayman Islands through those ports. 

But he suspects that is not the case. “It may be speculation but I would say that is just a small percentage [of the drugs coming through]. It is fair to say there are gaps in our borders which we are seeking to plug at the moment,” Mr. Bodden said. 

He added that support staff could be better utilized to free up customs officers to do more investigative and enforcement work. He also plans to redeploy additional customs staff with the joint police, customs and immigration unit that patrols the islands marine borders. 

There are currently three customs officers attached to the task force. Police take the official lead on investigations, which means that confiscations at sea are recorded in police statistics, rather than through customs. 

Mr. Bodden, a 30-year veteran of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, said it was clear that drugs were getting through the borders. 

“There is a connection between drugs and firearms which transplants into violent crimes, such as robberies and murders,” he said. “We have a shared responsibility to make sure we are doing all we can to prevent drugs and other illegal contraband coming into the Cayman Islands.” 

As well as cocaine and cannabis, weapons, including two handguns, one rifle scope, and 80 rounds of ammunition were confiscated at the airport in the last five years. A dozen spear guns, a sword, a sex toy, and two “items believed to be used for witchcraft” were also confiscated from passengers over the time period. 

Personal protection items like pepper spray and batons were also seized, as well as several packages of pills without prescriptions. Jewelry and clothing depicting the marijuana plant was the most commonly seized item, with 143 products confiscated. 

Marlon-Bodden-Cayman-Customs-S

Mr. Bodden