Written Answers. - Customs Maritime Unit.

Michael Woods

Ceist:

136 Dr. Woods asked the Minister for Finance the number of times on which the Customs maritime unit launched its boats into the sea in 1995 and to date in 1996 in the regions of the east coast, the south coast and the west coast; and the number of hours involved in sea patrols in each of these regions. [16522/96]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that maritime units of the Customs national drugs team (CNDT) were launched on 200 occasions in 1995 and on 127 occasions so far in 1996, involving 876 hours and 560 hours respectively, on operational duty in that period.

The breakdown of launchings of maritime units and the number of hours involved in sea patrols in the period in question is as follows:

1995

1996

Launchings

Hours

Launchings

Hours

East Coast

28

90

Nil — see below

Nil — see below

South Coast

54

205

35

100

West Coast

118

581

92

460

These units are used mainly to act on information received and to support the overall intelligence-gathering operation of the CNDT. The semi-rigid inflatable craft involved are suitable only for inshore use or for use close to the shoreline. They are not suitable for and are not used as patrol craft. Operations requiring sea patrol or surveillance beyond the coastline are carried out by the Naval Service which has always provided vital assistance on request.
As these figures indicate, maritime units are concentrated primarily in the area of the south and west coast where most of their activities take place, reflecting the greater danger of drugs smuggling in that area. A problem which has arisen in the staffing of the Dublin-based unit due to the departure of some trained and experienced staff led to that unit not being launched so far this year. This problem is being addressed and it is expected that the unit will be fully operational again in the near future.
As part of the overall drive to gather intelligence about drug sumuggling activity and suspicious movement of yachts and other vessels, intelligence units of the CNDT operate along the entire coastline of the State. This operation has been fully maintained throughout the period. The CNDT has also enlisted the assistance of the general public through the Drugs Watch Programme by encouraging coastal communities and maritime personnel to report unusual occurrences in their areas to Customs. This programme which was launched in 1994 has met with a very positive response.
There is very close co-operation with the Garda authorities and the Naval Service in combating smuggling of drugs by sea and the CNDT maintains direct contact with Customs services in other countries with whom there is also intensive exchange of intelligence.