Pubdate: Thu, 23 Jan 2003
Source: Halifax Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited
Authors: Randy Jones and Patricia Brooks


Customs finds 11.5 tonnes of drugs worth $210 million

By Randy Jones and Patricia Brooks / Crime Reporters

Bricks of hashish from the Port of Halifax's largest-ever drug seizure - 
emblazoned with the words Night Cristal, oozing oil and smelling like a 
musty basement - were unveiled Wednesday.

The 11.5-tonne seizure, worth about $210 million on the street, was found 
in a shipping container from Pakistan unloaded at the Fairview Cove 
terminal last Friday night.

"It's our biggest seizure by volume in the Port of Halifax to date," said 
Roy Jamieson, spokesman for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.

It was also the biggest-ever hash seizure in Atlantic Canada.

Ottawa spends $172.5m on port security

The difficult task of determining who was behind the massive shipment has 
just begun.

Investigators say the hash arrived in a container of cotton fabric and cat 
food. The drug was loaded in Pakistan and sent to Hong Kong, where it was 
loaded onto another ship that went through a number of ports, including 
stops in Malaysia, Singapore and Italy, before arriving in Halifax on its 
way to Montreal.

"We're looking at a number of groups," said Jack Fagan, head of customs 
intelligence in Atlantic Canada. "There's no indication whatsoever that 
it's linked to terrorism. But when you are speaking of drugs of this 
magnitude, organized crime is likely involved."

Pakistani ports such as Karachi are major shipping points for heroin, 
hashish and other drugs. Even before the fight against global terrorism 
intensified, the United States was pushing Pakistan to stem the flow of 
drugs going through the country, mainly from Afghanistan, on their way to 
Europe and the U.S.

Customs officials say the container seized Friday was targeted because of 
its point of origin and because of inaccuracies in its documents.

"There appeared to be some information that, if not false, it was at least 
missing, incomplete," Mr. Jamieson said. "Based on (customs workers') 
assessment, they felt we should have a look at it."

Longshoremen say they were suspicious of the container even before customs 
inspectors arrived.

"We found it but we really didn't," said Gerald Murphy, president of Local 
269 of the Halifax International Longshoremen's Association.

A stevedore moving containers on the pier overnight Friday accidentally 
drove a forklift into the already damaged container, which sent a bale of 
what appeared to be cat food spilling out, Mr. Murphy said.

"My understanding is the men just looked at it and just chucked it back 
there and it landed on the ground and a machine drove over it and it got 
recognized that way.

"According to my men, that's what happened."

Customs officers arrived and took over.

"Customs were there sweeping up speckles with a little dustpan and dust 
broom on the (pier) and analysing it," Mr. Murphy said.

Later, customs inspectors loaded the container onto a flatbed and took it 
to their inspection facility in Dartmouth.

Inspectors used a new high-tech gamma ray mobile scanner - basically a 
giant X-ray machine on an arm attached to a truck - to look inside the 
closed container.

The equipment is part of a major port security initiative unveiled Wednesday.

At a news conference in Halifax earlier in the day, the federal government 
announced it will spend $172 million over the next five years on technology 
and training to increase security at Canadian ports and improve 
surveillance at sea.

The announcement and other recent measures, including installing fences 
around port terminals and adding more security officers, are in response to 
the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

About three per cent of the containers shipped through Halifax are 
inspected, but customs officials hope the new equipment will significantly 
increase that figure.

Customs officials won't say what ship the drugs came in on, but the three 
vessels unloaded at the Fairview container terminal Friday and early 
Saturday were the Jervis Bay, the Bremen Express and the Singapore Express.

The first two arrived Friday morning while the Singapore Express arrived at 
about 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

Hapag-Lloyd operates two of the ships but a local company spokesman said 
Wednesday he knew nothing of the seizure.

The Port of Halifax was raided last July as part of an investigation into 
an international drug smuggling ring, but investigators insisted Wednesday 
this bust doesn't appear to have any links to people working at the port.

The ring busted last year, said to be Canada's biggest, included three port 
workers. The ring allegedly funnelled tonnes of cocaine, marijuana, hash 
and hash oil through the Port of Halifax.

During an 18-month investigation dubbed Operation Haven, $95.7 million in 
drugs was seized in places like Halifax, New Brunswick, Montreal, Hamilton 
and Barrie, Ont.
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