Lessons from shabu-smuggling incident: Modern surveillance system to heighten Subic security | SubicNewsLink

19 May 2009

Lessons from shabu-smuggling incident: Modern surveillance system to heighten Subic security

With last year’s Subic drug-smuggling case under investigation for possible administrative lapses by law enforcers and other concerned parties, authorities in this free port allayed fears of more smuggling attempts and said remedies are now in the offing.

In particular, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) will be relying on modern surveillance equipment like radars and closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems to build a virtual security cloak around Subic’s 14 piers and docks, said SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza.

“Whatever administrative lapses may have been in the shabu smuggling case, these are being addressed already,” Arreza said in a media interview on Friday.

“Even policies, like those on the classification of cargoes, are being looked into,” he added.

The SBMA executive said the close monitoring of Subic’s port “is basically our key requirement.” “That’s why we want a modern maritime surveillance setup,” he explained, adding that the SBMA would like to acquire a complete system of monitoring equipment as mandated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Arreza disclosed the SBMA’s initiative to upgrade security in Subic’s maritime port as an independent investigating panel created by President Arroyo began last week, looking into the foiled attempt to smuggle some P5 billion worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, into the Subic Bay Free Port in May.

The suspected mastermind, a business locator in Subic named Anthony Ang, managed to escape after promising to secure documents for his yet-undocumented cargo that later turned out to be shabu.

Arreza said a similar scenario is unlikely in Subic today as the SBMA begins streamlining the maritime traffic-management system in this free port and subjecting its seaport personnel to an exhaustive training in port operations.

The primary objective, he added, is to prevent the undetected entry or exit of small watercraft like yachts, rubber boats and bancas that could be used in smuggling activities.

“Unlike ships, tankers and other vessels which are equipped with an automatic identification system that registers their presence in port control stations, small vessels are harder to monitor since they only appear as small dots on radar screens,” said Arreza.

Arreza explained that once a vessel is suspected to have departed without notice, the protocol is to immediately contact the SBMA Harbor Patrol or the Philippine Coast Guard to intercept the boat.

“When all else fails and the craft escapes interception, our safety net is we can go after the ship’s agent,” he added.

Arreza said, however, that the projected installation of modern radars and CCTV systems would make the port of Subic safer and less prone to smuggling attempts.

“Once the closed-circuit cameras are installed, all vessels berthed in Subic Bay Free Port’s 14 piers and wharves can be monitored 24/7 in one control room,” Arreza said.

Arreza said the upgrading of Subic’s port security system was actually contained in the $215-million Subic port-modernization program that includes the construction in two phases of Subic’s new container terminal. (Henry Empeño, Business Mirror)