I am informed by Revenue that the role of the Maritime Unit, equipped with the two Revenue Customs Cutters, is to exercise responsibility for the customs function around the Irish coast and in territorial waters, up to 12 miles offshore. The primary aim of coastal activity is to prevent, detect and deter smuggling and illegal importation of controlled drugs and other goods. It involves co-operation between land-based Revenue and gardaí, the Maritime Unit and the Navy, and of course international authorities. The Revenue Maritime Unit completes the range of responses now regarded as standard in international anti-smuggling activities.
The use of cutters in Ireland was adopted having regard to the need to fill a gap between land-based resources and the Navy. The choice of robust seagoing vessels was necessary for safe and effective operation in variable weather and sea conditions. Internationally, the use of this kind of vessel is now standard. The benefits are in gathering intelligence, providing a visible customs presence in coastal waters, and widening the scope of Revenue capability. While searches (rummages) are carried out by the cutters, it is most unusual for them to seize more than small amounts of prohibited substances. Seizures are more usually done onshore, at the point of disembarkation, for safety reasons. Their intelligence and expertise have, however, contributed considerably to successful high profile operations, both nationally and internationally.
The range of cutter activities mirrors that of land-based customs officers and includes:
- Patrol of the external frontier to outer limits of Territorial Sea (12 mile limit).
- Monitoring (overt & covert) all vessel movements - Assess, Board, Rummage as required.
- Enforcement of import and export prohibitions and restrictions.
- Identification and securing of outstanding VAT/duty liability on pleasure craft.
- Information/Intelligence management.
- International anti-smuggling operations at sea.
- Managing and monitoring maritime information systems.
- Servicing national and international MOUs and Mutual Assistance requests.
- Supporting national anti-smuggling operations.
- Developing and servicing coastal contacts (Customs Drugs Watch Programme).
The principal costs associated with the operation of the cutters are fuel costs, operational maintenance costs and staffing costs. Each cutter has a crew of six, and is at sea for more then 200 days per annum, with 24/7/365 availability. The fuel and maintenance costs for two cutters was €299,411 in 2012; €337,340 in 2011; and €331,473 in 2010.
As an island nation the provision of customs cutters to police our maritime frontiers is regarded as an essential investment. The cost and adequacy of the present level of provision is continually reviewed. For the moment, Revenue are satisfied that they have an effective service at reasonable cost, that meets their foreseeable needs.