Putting pirates in reach of Customs

Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri says the Maritime Powers Extension Bill she is introducing to Parliament will give Customs greater authority to swiftly act against vessels trying to bring drugs into New Zealand.

New Zealand’s territorial waters end at the 12-nautical mile limit and the contiguous zone a further 12 nautical miles beyond that. The new legislation will apply from that point into the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the high seas beyond.

“Smuggling drugs by sea has always been a risk. Over the last two years, we have seen over a dozen large illicit drug shipments detected in the South Pacific region. It is clear that organised crime groups are looking to employ this option more often,” Meka Whaitiri said.

“These criminals see damaging our whānau through drugs as an attractive opportunity to satisfy their greed. It is crucial we stop New Zealand being seen by these drug syndicates as a soft target to exploit.

“We must broaden Customs abilities to disrupt international drug-smuggling networks early in the supply chain, allowing them to make seizures beyond 24 miles offshore.

“Current powers under the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Customs and Excise Act are not sufficient to deal with this threat to the safety of our communities. Therefore we are addressing this issue through this Bill.

“This Bill will give New Zealand Customs the statutory power to board, search and take necessary enforcement action - including arrest and seizure of vessels - on reasonable suspicion of smuggling activities in international waters around New Zealand.

“By aligning New Zealand Customs with their Australian counterparts who have explicit powers to act against smugglers in international waters, this legislation will help Aotearoa meet its international obligations to combat the traffic in illicit drugs and enable closer co-operation with our regional partners, particularly Australia.

“Together with Customs’ new purpose-built vessel, the Hawk V, this new legislation is supported by the $58.1 million from Budget 2018 to fight international drug smuggling networks and erase their destructive footprint on our communities,” Meka Whaitiri said.