Court orders fishing boat forfeiture

Crew members had ganja on board

Magistrate Grace Donalds ordered forfeiture of the fishing vessel Baby Sol on Wednesday after sentencing six crew members for importation of ganja.

Defense attorney John Furniss gave notice that he would be applying for the return of the vessel to the owner.

The 70-foot boat arrived in Cayman on Sept. 29, 2015, Crown counsel Greg Walcolm told the court. On inspection, Customs officers noted irregularities in paperwork regarding about 3,000 pounds of seafood on board. The irregularities involved the documents being altered.

On this basis, Mr. Walcolm said, officers called for the K-9 unit. During the search that followed, three cases of alcohol and quantities of ganja were found. Total weight of the ganja was 52.64 ounces, or about three and one-quarter pounds. One quantity was found in the bunk in the captain’s quarters, another in the engine room and more in the crew area.

The men claimed to have picked up the ganja at sea while on their way to Cayman. Two of them admitted taking the ganja for their personal use. They first appeared in court on Jan. 26 when all six pleaded guilty.

Defense attorney John Furniss wondered why it had taken four months to bring the matter to court. He had tried to find out what the irregularities were in the paperwork but was not told.

“With respect,” he addressed the court, “a boat arrives. You can look at the fish in the hold and see it is there. One would have thought the irregularities could be sorted out …. [Instead,] 3,000 pounds of fish are seized and taken and dumped on the dump.”

The earnings for the men on the boat would have come from the sale of the fish, Mr. Furniss explained. With no fish, they received no wages. They were bailed and re-bailed, being required to stay here until their matter was dealt with, he said.

The men had no money with which to pay a fine, a suspended sentence was not appropriate because they did not reside here, and it was not in the public interest to send them to prison, he urged. Mr. Furniss suggested a sentence of one day imprisonment with a recommendation for deportation. “This island would be better off rid of these individuals as soon as possible,” he said.

The men will have to go back to Honduras and reorganize their lives, he pointed out; if they are forbidden to return to Cayman, their jobs may be in jeopardy as well.

Anuar Jose Barrientos accepted responsibility for the ganja found in the captain’s quarters. The other defendants were Isidro Flores Amador, Carlos Benegas Cardona, Indalecio Rosales Garcia, Alejandro Matienzo Leon, Pedro Pablo Lopez Alvarez and Meleton Rosales Maick.

Mr. Furniss accepted that, under the Misuse of Drugs Law, the court “shall” order the forfeiture of a vessel used in the commission of a drug offense, and “shall” in the legal context means “must.”

The law goes on to say that when a vessel is ordered to be forfeited, the owner may make a claim within 14 days to have the boat restored to him. Before returning the boat, a court would have to be satisfied that the owner did not give permission for the offense and did not have knowledge that the boat would be used to convey any controlled drug. The owner would also have to pay 75 percent of the value of the vessel to have it returned.

In this case, Mr. Furniss accepted that he had seen a statement suggesting that the boat was altered to create concealed compartments. He said photographs of the boat would be required, along with evidence from someone knowledgeable about boat-building.

No date was set for the hearing of an application for restoration of Baby Sol to the owner, who was not named in court.

The magistrate sentenced each defendant to serve one day imprisonment and recommended their deportation.

The court was advised that Immigration officials would be acting quickly to see to the departure of five of the men. The sixth, Maick, is in custody on a charge of attempted murder, arising from an incident in West Bay on the night of Jan. 21. Maick is due in Grand Court on Friday, Feb. 12.