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More on Australian Customs

 Australian Customs makes brutal assault against the rights and property of cruising sailors!

 Yesterday (OCT 29-08) TCP received two reports of a new tactic from Australian Customs. I received an email reporting a boat that landed in Brisbane was ransacked by customs after ordering the crew to leave the vessel. Dogs and teams of personnel taking turns.

Then a phone call from a TCP contributor and volunteer working with the Port 2 Port rally in Bundaberg, the vessel "Friction" was given the same treatment. This vessel reported extensive damage to the vessel and personal property as a result. A powerful personal story here as the vessel left Australia 9 years ago and en route the skipper met a new bride in Columbia. She was particularly traumatised as she had fear of police and authorities in Columbia but was reassured by her new husband that things were different in Australia. One other boat in the fleet that came in with the rally was searched this way as well but do not have the particulars yet.

Most reported a thorough search but courteous treatment otherwise. Some were selected at random for this.

The officer in charge of the search that caused this latest controversy is the same individual that processed the Manzari's. The incident was reported last night on a local TV station. In response to the inquiry by Channel 7 news team, Customs promised that they would pay for damage to some personal property and to repair the damaged electronics on the vessel.

No contraband was reported found in any of these searches. Australian Customs have announced before that they now have the right to deny a crew from recording any audio or video or pictures while they are on the vessel. They will but you can not. The act or ordering crew off the vessel outright is new and seems well at odds with any normal police practise for search and seizure.

I just spoke to Dave, skipper of the vessel "Friction" briefly on the phone. He has contacted the Australian Federal Police as he feels the latest action of Customs against his vessel was illegal. He states that in the 52 countries he has cleared through no one has ever come close to the the nature of Australian Customs and that his vessel was damaged in a way that had he proceeded to sea the vessel and crews safety would have been compromised. There may be damage yet that is undiscovered.

He says he intends applying to the Supreme Court for an interlocutory injunction to cause Customs to cease this activity until the court can examine the legality of this procedure. (Update as of Nov 3, this attempt at court action appears unlikely at this time)

Again, skippers beware of Australian Customs. With the negative coverage from local TV it appears likely Customs will set this latest procedure aside for now. Please all note that Bundaberg Port marina is one of the best in Australia and the activities of customs should in no way reflect on the management of the marina.

 Comment as of Dec 4.

Sailors who have had recent positive outcome with Australian Customs please note; Yes.. that has been the most common lately and that is what TCP has reported. "Most reported a thorough search but courteous treatment otherwise. Some were selected at random for this." Please see the most recent edition of TCP # 33 page 8 for a report of a positive encounter and a (prophetic) warning that Customs should still not be trusted.

TCP takes the position that one case of abuse must stand alone. It is not 'made up for' by 2 or 10 or 1000 other examples that aren't abusive. Every sailors rights are important and as soon as 'their's' aren't neither are yours.

To respond to the rumour mill;

1. This craft was not treated badly because they had " a bad attitude". They were selected for this before they landed and had spoken a word to anyone in customs. The "Friction" crew were reported by marina staff to be cooperative and happy until they returned to see what had happened to their boat.

2. "If you do the right thing and give proper notice they treat you well." This craft had come in with a rally. All proper notice and documentation were provided. It appears to be random action. Bad luck.

3. They were searched hard because one of the crew "was from Columbia". This is bigoted and wrong. The crew in question had been given a residents visa, a very hard thing to obtain that requires months of investigation and proof of no criminal record or even suspicion of criminal activity.

TCP condemns those that for commercial or other reasons, invent and spread rumours that try to portray the victims to be at fault. When these issues come to attention it seems they are usually traced back to Bundaberg. (copy of editorial from TCP # 31 is below)

This is an example of bad Customs policy, enforced by a small group of individuals in Bundaberg that manage to make a bad situation worse. TCP had reports of two other searches made like this, that is the crew ordered to leave the craft whilst the inspection was in progress with dogs and a team of officers, but this is the only one that went this wrong.

Bundaberg has a problem with the Customs team there. Bundaberg Customs has been at the front of conflict with entering cruisers. No other port of entry has had such a record. The very first complaint made to TCP was from Bundaberg. The Manzari case was in Bundaberg. The controversy over "ship in transit" duties was in Bundaberg. Cruisers should know this so they can make their own decision.

exerpt from TCP 31 editorial;
 Watch out for the whisper campaign! My favourite whisper lie? I was sent a mail that quoted some rumourmonger in the Whitsundays as saying he had a contact in Bundaberg that claimed the Manzari’s were anchored for several days before contacting customs. This was from a forum that many will read and some will even believe. The person who mailed it to me had doubts and wanted confirmation. Wise man. Print media like TCP bears a burden of fact in reportage. The forums, blogs, marina layabouts and the MIB whisperers bear little or none at all.