Senators Kamina Johnson Smith and Peter Bunting
Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith says the US Government has apologised for its actions in the recent detention of four Jamaican fishermen and the subsequent destruction of their boat the Lady Lawla.
The four men were arrested by the US Coast Guard in territorial waters pursuant to the Shiprider Agreement, but were ordered released by the Southern District Court of Florida.
Senator Johnson Smith disclosed during Friday morning's sitting of the Senate that the apology came during a bilateral meeting held on January 6.
The Jamaican delegation included the ministers of Foreign Affairs and National Security as well as the Attorney General.
According to the minister, the government expressed "in very clear terms...its strong disappointment at the recent developments, including the failure of the US authorities to communicate critical information on the dismissal of the case as envisaged by the agreement."
She said following frank and respectful discussions, "apologies were extended to the Jamaican side by the United States regarding the handling of the matter."
Senator Johnson Smith said the meeting was convened to discuss improvements to the operating protocols and procedures under the Shiprider Agreement.
She noted that these relate to the boarding and searching of vessels and the status of nationals from the time of granting of the waiver by the Jamaican Government up to the time of any legal action against detainees.
The US authorities and Jamaican government have agreed or renewed their commitment to the importance of their longstanding bilateral relationship; the continued relevance of the Shiprider Agreement to stem the narcotics trade and eliminate its contribution to crime and violence in Jamaica; the importance of taking appropriate action to deal with any difficulties which may arise in the implementation of the agreement to ensure optimum effectiveness; and the US has committed to responding in a timely manner to proposed enhanced operational procedures with regards to the Shiprider Agreement.
With regards to the Lady Lawla crewmen, Senator Johnson Smith revealed that a waiver had been granted to the US authorities with the understanding that specific conditions under the Shiprider Agreement would be met, including the welfare of the Jamaicans.
She said the Jamaican Consulate in Miami monitored the case from their arrival in the US and made contact with them.
The Jamaicans were assigned legal counsel through the Office of the Public Defender in Florida.
Senator Johnson Smith noted that the Jamaican authorities were made aware of the dismissal of the case against the fishermen through the media on December 28, after which the government acted promptly "to ensure the return of the four men to Jamaica no later than the 31st of December."
Furthermore, she insisted the government affirmed that in the context where the charges against the men had been dismissed, "they should not be repatriated under order of deportation." The Jamaican Consulate General in Miami was then instructed to prepare emergency travel documents to facilitate their return to Jamaica.
The four fishermen, who were represented locally by Bert Samuels's law firm, returned to Jamaica on December 31.
But Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Peter Bunting expressed concern that the Jamaican fishermen were left languishing in the US close to two weeks after their case was dismissed.
He questioned the length of time it took for the Jamaican Consulate in Miami to update the Foreign Affairs Ministry about the case against the men.
He contended that had it not been for media reports, the men would perhaps still be languishing in US detention.
"So I am concerned, and this has really not so much to do with the US side but on the Jamaican side, given that the consulate had been alerted and they should have been monitoring the progress of this case, that weeks should pass and almost by accident our Ministry of Foreign Affairs learns of this," he lamented.