By Cormac O’Keeffe
THE customs service unveiled a new high-tech weapon yesterday in the fight against drug trafficking, smuggling, gun running, terrorism and human trafficking.
The launch of the x-ray scanner comes as new figures show a three-fold rise in the value of illegal drugs seized at the country’s airports and ports.
Customs figures show the value of drug seizures jumped from €12 million in 2004 to €37m in 2005.
The Chinese-built scanner, with a price tag of €3m, will enable border officials to inspect far greater numbers of containers and commercial vehicles.
The sophisticated scanner can detect concealed cargo with an x-ray, avoiding time-consuming physical searches.
The device can check for illegal drugs, contraband products such as cigarettes and alcohol, radioactive and nuclear materials, explosives and firearms and ‘clandestines’ (stowaways).
The scanner was officially launched by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in a formal ceremony, attended by the Chinese ambassador, the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, Noel Ahern, senior Garda and Defence Force officers as well as customs officials from other EU countries.
"This scanner will no doubt help level the playing field for customs in tackling containerised smuggling of drugs and contraband tobacco," said Mr Ahern.
He said the United Nations Office on Drugs estimated that the global illicit drug market was valued at €360 billion in 2003.
Minister Noel Ahern said the Revenue Customs service had seized €160m worth of illegal drugs between 1999 and 2004.
Customs figures show that €28m worth of cannabis resin was seized in 2005, compared to €7m in 2004.
More than €4.4m of cocaine was intercepted, compared to €3.5m in 2004, while €2.4m worth of ecstasy was seized, compared to €740,000 in 2004.
In addition, 51 million contraband cigarettes, valued at €15.5m, were confiscated in 2005.
Revenue chairman Frank Daly said he was certain the new cutting-edge technology would serve them well in their battle with criminals.
He said the scanner had already detected a consignment of two million cigarettes smuggled in a container of protective clothing.
He said the revenue that would have been lost if the consignment had not been discovered would have been around €460,000.
"You might say that the scanner has already paid for 15% of itself - before it’s formally taken into use," said Mr Daly.
He said the mobile scanner would operate in Dublin Port, in Rosslare, Waterford, Cork, Drogheda and Foynes.