International Group alert on drug smuggling arrests in Mexico

The International Group of P&I Clubs has released a Mexico alert on the smuggling of illegal narcotics (risk of ship detention and crew arrest).

The International Group, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO and InterManager in a joint statement drew Members’ attention to the series of recent ship detentions and crew arrests in Mexico and, in the case of the UBC Savannah, the lengthy and continuing detention in custody of the ship’s Master without any formal charges against him, following the discovery of illegal narcotics on board.

The statement noted that, since July 2019, the international industry organizations had recorded a number of cases where ships had been detained upon arrival in Mexican ports (in particular Altamira and Ensenada ports), with the ports of departure usually from Ecuador, Colombia or Panama, where illegal narcotics have been found on board.

In some cases, such detentions and crew arrests have followed when the illegal narcotics have been discovered on board by the crew and reported in advance at the earliest opportunity to the local authorities at the port of arrival in Mexico.

The statement read that, while the international industry organisations fully understood the damage caused to Mexico by the trafficking of illegal narcotics and the need to suppress and deter this criminal activity, including through the prosecution of offenders using the full force of the criminal law, the risk of unwarranted ship detentions and crew arrests and potentially lengthy prison stays should not be ignored.

Club Members’ attention was drawn to the Mexican Federal Code of Criminal Procedure, where anyone accused of drugs-related offences must remain in prison for the duration of the pre-trial and trial detention, even if innocent.

It was noted that pre-trial and trial detention in Mexico could be lengthy, and could be even further protracted, given the current Covid-19 situation.

The international industry organizations said that they had already expressed serious concern to the Mexican Government with regard to the apparent indiscriminate application of the Code as well as the disproportionate approach taken by public prosecutors in the cases of ship and crew detentions.

They said that they were engaged with the Mexican authorities in seeking the release of both the Master of the UBC Savannah and those ships currently detained.