Marine enforcement unit to check smuggling

The Customs and Central Excise Department will soon station a marine enforcement unit at Vizhinjam to check the smuggling of contraband items, including liquor and drugs, and protected species, through sea-routes and inland water ways, according to highly placed department officials.

They said the unit would have at least two armed patrol boats. The high speed boats would have modern communication and maritime surveillance systems. Their crew would be trained to intercept, board, search, and seize suspicious vessels. The Customs Enforcement Unit would work in tandem with the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Coastal police stations, the officials said.

A senior official pointed out that the smuggling of branded liquor into the district from Goa in sea-faring fishing boats was rampant.

(The excise duty for liquor in Goa was considerably lower than that in Kerala.) Central Customs enforcers said they operated on the premise that the same sea routes could be potentially used to smuggle drugs, fake Indian currency notes, explosives, pre-cursor chemicals for processing narcotic substances, and even fire-arms.

“We are essentially a border enforcement agency. The Customs is driven more by national security concerns than Revenue issues. Hence, the marine enforcement unit at Vizhinjam,” a senior official said.

The Department is also concerned about the rampant harvesting of protected marine species, which will then be smuggled through sea routes to ports in South East Asia to be used in the preparation of exotic dishes and medicines.

Investigators said poachers, mostly sea-faring fishermen, on the payroll of agents of international wildlife smugglers, often exploited the relatively lax Customs enforcement of the country’s territorial waters off the coast of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to harvest endangered sea cucumbers, rare corals and sea horses, which ended up in preserved form in foreign markets.

The poachers trawled the sea for clown fish, dolphins, sharks and turtles that fetch a high price in the clandestine market for endangered and protected species.