Customs officers protest being scanned at cargo shed
A standoff between customs officers stationed at the air cargo shed at the Argyle International Airport (AIA) and AIA security personnel saw operations at that facility come to a halt yesterday.
And, merchants, customs brokers and members of the public seeking to clear goods were prevented from doing so for several hours.
When SEARCHLIGHT visited the AIA on Thursday morning, five customs officers and about eight members of the public were observed on the landing of the air cargo area, while the sign on the door read “Closed”.
According to someone with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, for several weeks now, customs officers have alleged that AIA security personnel have been carrying out “illegal searches” of their person when they attempt to enter their workspace.
The source said that customs officers are repeatedly searched and scanned before they enter the work area, while police officers in uniform are not subjected to security checks.
One customs officer who asked not to be identified said in their opinion, the scanner is improperly positioned as it should be placed further inside the building.
The customs officer added that security personnel have been overheard saying that the customs officers feel they are more powerful than other officials, so they are being searched “to bring us down to the level we should be”.
“If we come outside for one second and have to return, they search us and scan us. This is not right, as the same thing is not done to police who come here,” said the officer who added that certain customs regulations make what is happening to them illegal.
Some customs officers refused to be searched on Thursday and that saw Head of Security at the AIA Keith Miller, shut down the area.
One woman who identified herself as ‘Claire’ from Prospect said she came to the AIA to collect a shipment of chicks from Barbados and she met the building closed.
“The customs officers outside, and I asked why the place closed and they said they don’t know,” said Claire who was at the cargo shed for about an hour before SEARCHLIGHT turned up.
Benson Gilkes from Prospect said he came to collect 450 chickens and was worried that the birds would die if not cleared from customs in time.
“I find the place lock down and I ask the customs officer and they say Mr Miller lock down the place. My chickens can’t stay too long without something to eat and water. They leave Barbados since 9:20 a.m. and they came up on LIAT. This is very disturbing,” said Gilkes.
A customs broker, Yasmine Shepherd, said that the distance the AIA is from her workplace in Kingstown was already problematic, so to come to the cargo shed and be greeted by it being closed was distressing.
“It hard to travel so far and then you can’t get through to have to come back another day again, and then you not even sure when they going open,” said Shepherd.
Miller could not be reached and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the AIA Hadley Bourne said he had no comment on the issue.
Unconfirmed reports are that AIA management met with top customs personnel on Thursday to try to resolve the issue. The facility reopened at around 11.55 am and business resumed as usual.