The Customs Department has intensified its activities at the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) due to a significant number of firearms and ammunition being identified and seized from the luggage of in- and outbound passengers.
Customs aims to contribute effectively to the safety and security of St. Maarten while forming a minimal obstacle to passenger flow. However, as of January of this year, the Customs Department has intercepted a significant number of firearms, ammunition, and parts of firearms on passengers traveling to St. Maarten via the Princess Juliana International Airport.
Through further investigation, it was identified that some of the suspects successfully bypassed a number of checkpoints and were able to travel from their country of origin and entered St. Maarten with the firearm. On Tuesday, September 27th, a passenger who claimed that she was an active-duty police officer abroad, indicated that she brought her service firearm to the island for protection.
However, there is no record that the traveler acquired clearance from the Minister of Justice to do so.
Pursuant to Article 2 of the National Decree on Firearms, the import, export, and transit of firearms are forbidden without the permission of the Ministry of Justice. Permission, also known as a consent document, is needed from the Minister of Justice prior to transporting the weapon. In issuing a consent document the Ministry of Justice checks if a person is by law authorized or has a valid permit to own or carry the weapon. Not only private persons but also law enforcement officers and commercial weapon dealers have to request permission from the Minister of Justice to import, export, or transfer a firearm to or from St. Maarten.
If such a consent document is not issued, the Customs Department has the right to confiscate the weapon. Based on Article 13 of the Firearm Ordinance the Customs Department is authorized to enforce the laws regarding the import, export, and transfer of weapons in St. Maarten. Violating the aforementioned legislation is considered a criminal offense and is punishable with a maximum detention sentence of 4 years or a maximum fine of ANG 10.000,-.
Persons involved in these cases were either arrested, fined, or received a conditional dismissal and/or forfeited their rights to the product.
These intense actions have affected the normal free flow of passengers at the airport and the department notes that this can be a discomfort for some. However, it must be understood that law enforcement has a duty to serve and protect. The Customs Department in particular must take actions that safeguard the community at large and controlling what is imported and exported to and from Sint Maarten is directly linked to that.