Crew arrests in Mexico for drug smuggling on the increase

Jail cell, prison interior. Credit: Getty Images

Major shipping organisations have warned crews face being falsely accused of drug smuggling in Mexico after several vessels have been detained and their crews arrested in the country’s ports.

The alert, issued by International Group of P&I Clubs, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO, and InterManager outlined five ongoing cases including that of the UBC Savannah. Since July 2019, the master of the bulk carrier has been in custody with no formal charges against him and the vessel detained, when 225 kg of cocaine was found in a cargo hold loaded with ore. The cargo was loaded in Barranquilla, Colombia.

Captain Andrezj Lasota and his crew were jailed, on 27 July 2019, despite alerting the local Mexican authorities to the drug find and no evidence of crew involvement was uncovered. The crew were subsequently released and deported three months later, while captain Lasota remains in custody in Mexico and faces up to a 20 year prison sentence.

The alert states that such incidents are on the increase and follow a similar pattern; the vessel is detained on arrival, especially in the Mexican ports of Altamira and Ensenada, narcotics are discovered onboard and the crew arrested.

“It is extremely important for crews of our ships to be fully aware of the situation in Mexico. Risk Assessments and procedures have to be fully adhered to and if in any doubt we encourage ship’s masters to seek guidance of their managers,” captain Kuba Szymanski, secretary general, InterManager told SAS.

The Mexican Federal Code of Criminal procedure dictates that wherever anyone is accused of a drug related offense, they must remain in prison for the duration of the pre-trial and trial detention, even if innocent.  Pre-trial and trial detention in Mexico can be lengthy, and further drawn-out given the current situation with the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak.

The alert advised crew aboard vessels arriving in Mexico after loading cargo in other South American ports, specifically Colombia, Ecuador or Panama, to contact its P&I Club should foul-play be suspected.