USCG Ammends Illegal Drug Policy For Commercial Fishing

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Yost and Customs Service Commissioner William von Raab recently announced that personal- use of illegal drugs found on commercial fishing industry vessels will no longer subject the vessel to immediate seizure, provided the vessel is engaged in fishery operations, or is en route to or from fishery operations.

The new interim procedure recently went into effect. Specific regulations will be published in the near future. The recent action results from requirements contained in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, and applies only to commercial fishing industry vessels. Common carriers, such as ferryboats, cruise ships, etc., are handled differently.

The law already protects this class of vessel from seizure and forfeiture due to the conduct of a passenger possessing or bringing drugs on board unless there is evidence that the master/operator knew of the violation or was grossly negligent in preventing the violation.

In the past, under the administration's zero tolerance policy, commercial fishing industry vessels found with personal-use quantities of illegal drugs would have been immediately seized and escorted into port to await forfeiture proceedings by the U.S. Customs Service.

Now, the operator of the vessel will be handed a summons by the boarding officer who discovers the drugs. The summons requires the vessel to be presented before the local director of customs at a specified port, at the completion of the trip, or within a stated time period.

It will then be determined, through administrative procedures, whether the vessel is to be forfeited or a penalty is to be paid.

The procedure also addresses what happens to a vessel after it is seized. It calls for expedited procedures to settle all such matters, providing a 20-day period to petition for the return of the vessel and requiring a decision from Customs within 20 days of receipt of the petition.

When a summons is issued, the operator of the vessel will also be given details of the revised forfeiture procedures. Failure to appear subjects the vessel to seizure, and may subject the operator to arrest and criminal prosecution.

Personal use illegal drug quantities are generally defined as less than one gram of cocaine or heroin, and less than one ounce of marijuana.

Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 16,  Apr 1989 Norman D. Al

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