Two men who were held after a prohibited firearm and a quantity of ammunition were found aboard their vessel last year, said poor security procedures by the BVI Ports Authority are to be blamed for their dilemma.
Boat operators Lee Martin and Warren Mitchell claim they have no knowledge of how the gun and ammunition came to be on their vessel. But, they said they suspect an unknown party smuggled the weapon on to their vessel while it was docked at Port Purcell last year.
During their trial at the Magistrate’s Court this week, prosecutors challenged that claim. They maintained that the accused boat operators were responsible for any cargo aboard the ship and it was likely that they had knowledge of the illegal cargo.
Testifying in their defence, the accused St Vincent residents asserted that BVI port operations are different from other countries they have conducted business in.
The men told the court they were appalled at how lax the day-to-day operations were at the BVI’s Port Purcell facility.
The accused men told the court that persons were freely allowed to pass through the security checkpoint at Port Purcell, most times without their cargo being inspected.
The men claimed that when they expressed their shock, local port workers responded: “This is Tortola … this is how it is done here”.
The men further told the court that the security officers based at the facility seldom ensured that persons entering the port were monitored while on the compound.
That, they said, left a window for persons to be able to enter any vessel at will without the knowledge of the guards.
Captain license disqualified
One of the accused men, Martin, further told the court that he was not responsible for his vessel for a few days after arriving in the BVI.
That is because local authorities from the VI Shipping Registry disqualified him as captain of the vessel where the gun was eventually found.
He said he was disqualified as a boat captain two hours after docking in the BVI. Authorities told him that his boating license needed to be upgraded in order to perform captain duties, Martin claimed.
Martin said he subsequently gave his co-accused Mitchell a provisional title of co-captain.
But, days later on January 20 of last year, Port and police officials conducted a search of his vessel and reportedly discovered a cardboard box containing the gun and ammo in the cargo area.
The two were then arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.
Mitchell is currently on $60,000 bail while Lee is on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison in Balsam Ghut.
Attorney Stacy Abel is representing Martin while attorney-at-law Michael Maduro is representing Mitchell.
The accused men will return to court.