Categorized | National News

Three In Custody For Illegal Landing

By K Quincy Parker

Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell has confirmed that three people are in custody in connection with an immigrant laden boat that ran aground in Mangrove Cay last month.

The boat was carrying 197 illegal Haitians at the time.

Minister Mitchell told The Bahama Journal yesterday that the Department of Immigration has already conducted investigations.

“The individuals who are suspected of that are still in the country,” he said. “They were retained. Everybody’s gone back, but they are still here.”

He did not disclose the substance of the immigration investigation.

“There’s a report which the director has completed and has been forwarded to the police for their further discussions with the director of public prosecutions,” he said.

Director of Immigration Jack Thompson told The Journal that three people were questioned by Department of Immigration officers, and files have been created on each individual.

That information, he said, was then sent to the commissioner of police, with the hope that the police conduct an investigation based on the preliminary data.

“We are just waiting to hear from the police,” he said. “That is as far as we’ve gotten.”
Pressed for more details, Mr. Thompson refused to elaborate, citing an “abundance of caution” and the desire not to prejudice the police investigation.

Nearly 200 Haitians were taken into custody when the boat on which they were passengers ran aground in weather made dangerous by Tropical Storm Isaac.

The boat had left Cap Haïtien on August 18 and travelled for seven days before being driven aground.

It was not clear whether The Bahamas was the boat’s final destination, nor is it clear whether the passengers had paid their way, although it is likely.

In one recent incident classified as ‘human smuggling,’ it emerged that passengers on a similar boat had possibly paid as much as $5,000 each for a spot.

Despite open acknowledgement that The Bahamas remains both a transit point and a destination for human smuggling and despite frequent apprehensions of what are clearly smuggling episodes, prosecutions for human smuggling or human trafficking are rare.

While the Trafficking In Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Act was passed in 2007, The Bahamas does not have a specific human smuggling law.
However, Section 47 of the 1967 Immigration Act contains an offence called “assisting illegal landing.”

It says that anyone who knowingly assists or connives in the landing of anyone in The Bahamas other than according to the regulations – or anyone who willfully does anything preparatory to the landing of someone in The Bahamas outside those regulations – is guilty of an offence against the Act.
Section 47 (2) says that anyone who helps an illegal passenger leave The Bahamas by a ship or aircraft or carries an illegal passenger on a ship or aircraft leaving The Bahamas is also guilty of an offence against the Act.

The Act defines an “illegal passenger” as a person (other than a citizen or permanent resident) who, prior to his departure from The Bahamas, had not been given leave to land in The Bahamas or who is not in possession of any visa or other like document entitling him to enter the country for which the respective ship or aircraft was destined.

Section 47 (5) sets out the liabilities under the Act: a maximum fine of $5,000 for the owner or person in charge of a vessel used in the commission of an offence “for each person with respect to whom the offence was committed.”

The Act also allows for a $3,000 fine, a two-year prison term and forfeiture and condemnation of the vessel for anyone not deemed the owner or person in charge of the vessel.

Former assistant commissioner of police Paul Thompson Sr., a highly respected cop who retired after 30 years on the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), recently counselled an aggressive course of action against people involved in human smuggling.
“The owners of that boat and the captain and crew we should seek them out. Those people should go to jail. They should go to jail for a long time, too,” Mr. Thompson said.

“And the boat,” he added, “whatever is left of it, should be seized. This is something we should be doing. Seize the boats. Seize property. That’s my point.”

Stop lists still exist.

“It is an effective tool in national security. Persons are identified who should be placed on the stop list. It is a tool that is necessary for the safety of our people,” he said.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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