<<< Labour and Social Security Minister and acting prime minister Pearnel Charles (right) embraces Prime Minister of the Bahamas Hubert Ingraham shortly after he landed at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston last Thursday. Ingraham, who travelled on the jet owned by Sandals chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, was in the island to attend the funeral of former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston Lawrence Burke. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
Courtesy of The Jamaicn Observer
Kingston, Jamaica — An apparent conspiracy to smear the names of Sandals Resorts International bosses is now the subject of a probe by Jamaican and Bahamian authorities, after a Sandals jet was last Monday searched by Bahamian Customs in the presence of the police when it landed in the Bahamian island of Exuma.
The Bahamian authorities said they conducted the search after receiving a call from “the Narcotics Division” in Kingston from where the jet had departed. Prior to departure from Jamaica, and in accordance with Sandals security protocol, the jet was searched and found clean by a police sniffer dog.
The aircraft was taking Sandals officials and journalists to Puerto Rico to join American Airlines representatives for the first of 10 mercy flights organised by both Sandals and American Airlines to fly relief supplies into earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The stop in Exuma, where Sandals recently acquired a hotel, was to pick up an executive of the resort chain.
On Friday, Sandals officials pointed out that the organisation had, for some months now, been employing strict security measures in relation to the air and sea vessels owned by the Group.
Aircraft and boats are checked at each port of departure to ensure that they are free of contraband.
Captain Michael Benjamin, head of security for Sandals, said that last Monday at about 9:30 am, the pilots of the Sandals jet, which was in Montego Bay, called the Police Canine Unit in Kingston requesting that the jet be searched on its arrival that afternoon at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, where it was scheduled to pick up five passengers for the Puerto Rico trip for a 2:30 pm departure.
The jet, he said, arrived in Kingston with three passengers. However, the Canine Unit personnel and dog were not on the ramp at the time. “The crew called the Canine Unit and the personnel showed up with the dog at about 2:30 pm and conducted a sniff-and-search outside the aft baggage compartment,” said Captain Benjamin.
“The first bags checked were those on the plane belonging to the three passengers who were in transit from Montego Bay, after which the person from the Canine Unit started walking away. However, the crew called her back and requested that the sniffer dog check the cabin and the baggage compartment,” he explained.
Captain Benjamin said that after that was done, the Canine Unit officer started walking away from the aircraft, but the crew asked her to wait as they wanted her to check the five new passengers scheduled to board, as well as the three who had come in from Montego Bay and had disembarked.
“She agreed. Then, at about 2:40 pm all the passengers started boarding the aircraft,” he said, adding that the dog was used to check everyone, as well as their hand and checked luggage.
Having found nothing for which to detain the aircraft, the Canine officer left and the flight was cleared for departure at 2:50 pm. Benjamin said that when the flight arrived in Exuma at 3:55 pm, it was met by a representative of Odyssey Aviation, the Bahamian ground handlers for Sandals, who said that she was advised by the Odyssey representative in Nassau that police and customs officials were on their way to conduct an inspection of the plane and that all passengers were to remain onboard. She explained that the action was being taken on account of information received from the Narcotics Police Division in Kingston.
“At 4:05 pm, the passengers disembarked, they were searched, the plane was searched and nothing was found,” said Captain Benjamin. “The plane was released at 4:35 pm.
After the incident, Odyssey issued a statement indicating that the Sandals flight was cleared and customs officials were satisfied that there was no need for police involvement.
Last week, Jamaica’s Acting Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington said that he was aware of the incident and that it was being probed.
“Our checks revealed that the Sandals aircraft was cleared by security here and any such tip-off made to the authorities in the Bahamas would be a breach of procedure,” said Ellington. “An investigation is now under way to determine the basis for it.”
When asked about the reason for the high alert by Sandals, Captain Benjamin said that for security reasons he could not discuss the details but noted that Sandals utilises the Canine Unit of the Police to provide drug inspection on all Sandals flights leaving Jamaica and had put in other security measures to combat a possible narcotics set-up.
“Our operating costs,” he said, “have increased but we are leaving nothing to chance.”
BP EDITORIAL NOTE: Bahamas Press wonders how could Hubert Ingraham find such affection to use the private jet of Sandals but could not find his voice to assist the scores of Sandals workers who were unceremoniously dismissed from Sandals one year ago.
WE NEED CHANGE!!!