Ten months after a Honduran fishing vessel was impounded by Cayman authorities, attorney John Furniss successfully argued for its return to its owner after payment of costs for “transporting and keeping” the vessel.
Magistrate Grace Donalds heard the application earlier this month for the boat to be restored to its owner, after payment of costs totaling $7,533.
She had ordered forfeiture of the Baby Sol on Feb. 3, after sentencing six crew members for importing a little more than three pounds of ganja. The men claimed to have picked up the ganja at sea while on their way to Cayman with 3,000 pounds of seafood. They said they had the drug for their personal use.
When the vessel arrived in Cayman on Sept. 29, 2015, one quantity of ganja was found in the bunk in the captain’s quarters, another in the engine room and more in the crew area.
At the sentencing hearing, Crown counsel Greg Walcolm said Customs officers who inspected the vessel had noted irregularities in paperwork regarding the seafood on board. A K-9 unit search of the vessel revealed three cases of alcohol and 52.64 ounces (about three-and-a-quarter pounds) of ganja.
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.”
After the men were sentenced to one day in prison and recommended for deportation, Mr. Furniss gave notice that he would be applying for the return of the vessel to the owner. He accepted that he had seen a statement suggesting that the boat was altered to create concealed compartments.
The application for return of the vessel was heard on Aug. 4. A customs officer produced two models of a fuel tank – one with holes cut in the baffles and one without holes. A baffle is a device used to restrain the flow of a fluid, gas, or loose material.
A marine surveyor, in a statement to Customs, described the vessel as 72 feet long and 18.5 feet wide, with a draft of 5.7 feet and powered by twin inboard diesel engines. He noted that the stated market value was US$150,000, but based on his observations of the boat, he could not see anyone paying as much as that to acquire it.
In his opinion, the holes in the baffle plates had been put there so that the amount of sludge in the tanks could be observed and cleaned out. The surveyor considered it “most unlikely” that the holes had been cut to make a hiding place for smuggled goods.
The owner of Baby Sol and her husband, in their evidence, said they had never given permission for the boat to be used for drugs. In fact, the husband had met with the crew before they sailed and had made clear what the expectations were as to discipline on board and zero tolerance for illegal drugs, the court heard.
The Misuse of Drugs Law states that a court shall not make an order to restore a vessel to its owner unless it is satisfied that he or she did not permit anyone to use the vessel for the purpose of conveying a controlled drug and had no knowledge that the vessel would be used for that purpose.