Minister says Gov't not responsible for destruction of Lady Lawla

Minister says Gov't not responsible for destruction of Lady Lawla

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, January 16, 2021

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MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith yesterday told the Senate that the Government had nothing to do with the recent destruction at sea of the Jamaican-registered vessel Lady Lawla.

The vessel was destroyed after being taken over by personnel aboard a United States Coast Guard vessel, which had taken into custody its four Jamaican crew members who were accused of drug trafficking.

The men were eventually freed by the US court and have since returned home, but it has been suggested that the destruction of their vessel was supported by the Jamaican authorities.

Senator Johnson Smith, who is also Leader of Government Business in the Senate, gave the assurance while answering concerns raised by the Leader of Opposition Business Senator Peter Bunting, after she had assured her colleagues that discussions are continuing with the American Government on addressing several matters which have arisen since the incident concerning the effectiveness of the 23-year-old Shiprider Agreement between Jamaica and the US.

Bunting had asked the minister, “Where do the owners/interests in the vessel go? Who do they go to, to look to for compensation?” However, the minister said the question was an “inappropriate” one, as she was not in a position to give legal advice to the owner.

“I am unable to guide on the matter of compensation. I encourage them to seek guidance in that regard but not from me. It would be inappropriate,” she said.

“My point is that it is not for the minister to offer legal advice, but given what we have seen there must be some concern on the part of the Government as to what will happen in cases where vessels are wrongfully destroyed,” Bunting insisted.

The minister said that the Government cannot specifically authorise destruction of vessels.

“The decision to destroy a vessel is taken by the person that they (seamen) call 'the unseen commander', that is the captain of the ship that does the interception. It is the captain of the ship on the high seas that takes the decision, as to how to dispose of a vessel that has been intercepted on suspicion of conduct of illicit activity,” she explained.

“Destruction of the vessel on the grounds of posing a danger to maritime activities is standard 'best international practice' if you are on the high seas. If you are within the port, there can be discussions within sight of land, etc. There can be discussions about arrangements being made to carry the vessel inland for somebody to collect the vessel,” she said.

However, she said that when the vessel is on the high seas it cannot be towed or left stranded at sea, and it is not unusual for them to be destroyed. She also noted that this is a practice contained in international conventions against illicit drug trafficking, and has been preserved in the Shiprider's Agreement between Jamaica and the US.

On February 6, 2004, the Governments of Jamaica and the United States signed a protocol amending a 1997 US Jamaica Maritime Counter Narcotics Cooperation Agreement, also known as the Shiprider Agreement, for further cooperation in deterring the movement of illicit drugs through Jamaican territorial waters from South America to the United States.

The protocol allows for cooperation in ship boarding, ship riding and overflight. In addition, US Coast Guard law enforcement detachments operating from specific foreign government ships will be able to board suspected ships in Jamaican waters.

The protocol speeded up the provision of technical assistance, including drug detection technology between the two countries and put a framework in place for the exercise of jurisdiction in each nation's continuous zone. It also ensures greater protection for civil aircraft, including an agreement that neither the US nor Jamaica will use force against civil aircraft in flight.

Then National Security Minister Dr Peter Phillips told the signing ceremony that the protocol and the original agreement were a necessary approach, as “counter-narcotics in the contemporary world was an international activity”, and part of a globalised world economy and as such efforts to counteract it would also require effective international cooperation.

He said the ease with which the agreement was arrived at was testimony of the 'successes' of operations carried out under the agreement since it was first signed in 1997.

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