Gov't insists on Shiprider reforms, despite apology

Gov't insists on Shiprider reforms, despite apology

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, January 17, 2021

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DESPITE an apology from United States authorities, the Government is still pursuing changes to the so-called Shiprider Agreement arrangement in order to hike the protection for Jamaicans mistakenly detained at sea for illegal activities.

Minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, Senator Kamina Smith told the Senate on Friday that this is necessary as proposals to deal with these issues have been floating between Jamaica and the United States since the mistaken detention of four other Jamaican fishermen in 2017.

In her statement to the Senate, Senator Johnson Smith said that at a meeting with a wide cross section of senior US officials on January 6, which also included Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang and Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, as well as their supporting technical teams, they reviewed the operational procedures associated with the implementation of an updated agreement.

The US delegation included the most recent Ambassador to Jamaica Donald R Tapia and other senior embassy officials of the US Coast Guard, as well as representatives of the Departments of Justice and State.

“The Government of Jamaica expressed, in very clear terms, certain steps key to bridging gaps and in the implementation, as well as strong disappointment with the developments, including the failure of the US authorities to communicate critical information on the dismissal of the case, as envisaged in the agreement,” which Senator Johnson Smith saw as a breach of the protocols.

“I am pleased, however, to advise that the bilateral exchange was constructive and frank, and undertaken in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect. Apologies were extended to the Jamaican side by the United States regarding the handling of the matter,” she added.

She said that both sides agreed on: the importance of long-standing bilateral relations between the two countries; giving relevance and validity continually to the Shiprider Agreement; and the importance of appropriate action to deal with difficulties which arise in pursuing the agreement.

However, the minister insisted that the meeting has also marked the start of a more robust level of discussions with the Americans, who have been asked to respond to the proposals from the Government to improve the effectiveness of the Shiprider Agreement within a matter of weeks.

She said, in reflection, that in light of a 2017 case involving another Jamaican vessel, the Jossette, her ministry had engaged its “US partners” and put forward certain proposals designed to provide more information, at the relevant stages, on the Shiprider issues as well as attendant consular and human rights issues.

She said the Government was aware that those proposals, which required wide consultations among US stakeholders, could not all be implemented at the same time. However, the treatment of the issues involving another Jamaican sea vessel, the Lawla, has not been in keeping with the conditions of the 1997 Shiprider Agreement, or the Maritime Drug Trafficking Suppression Act which came into being in 1998, which she described as the critical elements.

She pointed out that the US Government has admitted, through its embassy in Kingston, that a formal request was made to the Jamaican Government for the waiver of jurisdiction over the Lawla, its cargo and persons on-board. Following the process provided for in law, the Jamaican Government approved the request – with certain specific conditions. These conditions were:

(1) That the persons would only be charged with offences pursuant to the agreement, and that the Government would be advised of the changes;

(2) That the general welfare, including the physical and mental health of the detainees, would be ensured;

(3) That the detained persons would be permitted, should they so desire, to make contact with the Jamaican Consul officials; and

(4) That detained persons would have access to legal counsel in relation to any charges brought against them.

The minister said that her ministry advised the Consul General in Miami of the detention and when they arrived in the US, and the consulate made enquiries about their location and made contact with them.

“The Consul General confirmed that the four men were well, and had been assigned legal counsel through the Office of the Public Defender in Florida. The ministry also communicated with the US authorities, through the US Embassy in Kingston, reminding of the conditions under which the waiver of jurisdiction had been granted,” Johnson Smith noted.

However, she said that while the US Southern District Court dismissed the charges brought against the men, on the grounds of lack of evidence, on December 15, the ministry was not made aware of the dismissal of the case until it was made public by local media reports.

She said that the ministry immediately sought formal advice from the US embassy on the status of the case, and the US embassy subsequently confirmed the status of the matter and shared the relevant documents. “Our attention immediately turned to ensuring that our nationals were returned home, expeditiously. Having learnt from our Consul General in Miami that they were scheduled for repatriation on January 28, 2021, on the regular monthly flight for involuntary retunees, the ministry took immediate action, through diplomatic communications with the US Embassy, to ensure the return of the men no later that December 31, 2020,” Senator Johnson Smith explained.

“Furthermore, we affirmed that in a context where the charges had been dismissed, there should not be repatriation under an order of deportation. In the interim, the Jamaican Consulate in Miami was instructed to prepare emergency travel documents to facilitate their return to Jamaica,” she added.

She said the US authorities were fully co-operative in respect of the requests, which enabled the four men to return home on December 31.

She stated that while the agreement remains important in terms of helping Jamaica's fight against illegal activities, the protection of the rights of Jamaican nationals in a third country is the pillar of the country's foreign policy.

“In that context, it has been important to ensure that that an illegal action and judicial process undertaken by the US, pursuant to the Shiprider Agreement, is accompanied by action addressing the human rights of Jamaicans against that background,” she stated.

She said that between the review of the Jossette matter and reviews conducted in these circumstances, the Jamaican authorities identified ways in which operating protocols and procedures by which the Shiprider arrangement operates could be improved.

She said these areas included: the boarding and search of intercepted vessels; and issues relating to the status of nationals from the time of the grant of the waiver and up to the outcome of any legal and judicial action pursued against them, pursuant to the agreement.

Senator Johnson Smith said that it was at this stage that the January 6 meeting was pursued and the US authorities given the list of proposed improvements to the agreement, which the Government is hoping will be addressed before the end of January.

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