US Coast Guard had no power to search Jamaican boat, court rules

(Jamaica Gleaner) The Supreme Court has ruled that the United States Coast Guard does not have the power under the law to search Jamaican flagged vessels which are docked in the island and are under the custody of local law enforcement.

Supreme Court judge Justice David Batts made the order yesterday when he granted declarations and constitutional redress to Kingston businessman David Chin.

Batts held that Jamaican law enforcement acted unlawfully and without reasonable or probable cause when they allowed US Coast Guard personnel to assist them in searching Chin’s fishing vessel Lady Lawla, while it was docked in Jamaican waters and under the control of the security forces.

The judge found it significant that the US Coast Guard felt uncomfortable when Chin voiced his objection to his vessel being searched by them.

INAPPROPRIATE

Batts said perhaps the US Coast Guard recognised the inappropriateness of the conduct and was well aware that foreign forces would not, in their own country, be invited to board a ship of their nation while it was safely in port and under the control and custody of US law enforcement.

The security forces said the decision to allow the US Coast Guard to join in the search was made because local law enforcement did not have the necessary equipment and expertise to adequately analyse all the space on the vessel.

The court was told that in October 2009, Chin and a crew of six fishermen left Kingston and went to a fishing bank outside of Jamaica’s territorial waters to purchase fish. Chin purchased over 33,000 pounds of fish.

The Jamaican Coast Guard had reported that they had received intelligence that the vessel was going to bring in cocaine from South America.

When it returned on November 20, the vessel was intercepted and ordered to the local base of the Coast Guard in Port Royal. It was searched, but no contraband was found. The vessel was detained and the help of the US Coast Guard was sought to assist in a further detailed search.

Chin was represented by attorneys-at-law Bert Samuels and Roxanne Mars.

Chin was awarded special damages of $225,000 for legal fees and $500,000 in general damages.

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