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Trinidad Court Holds Virtual Hearing for Freighter Drug Bust Suspects

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L to R: Second officer Chandan Kumar Singh, Capt. Shaikh Arif Noor Mohammed, ship manager Behzat Tokgoz

By The Maritime Executive 05-16-2020 10:54:37

In the COVID-19 era, teleconferences and remote meetings have become commonplace for everything from class inspections to training programs. In Trinidad and Tobago, the trend extends to virtual bail hearings for shipboard drug busts. On Friday, two officers from the freighter Throne "appeared" in a virtual court in Port of Spain to answer charges of cocaine trafficking. 

The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service's special investigations unit boarded the Palau-flagged Throne on April 29. During a search, they allegedly found and seized about 475 kilos of cocaine. The master and 18 crewmembers were arrested. 

Prosecutors opted to pursue trafficking charges for the captain, Indian national Shaikh Arif Noor Mohammed, 31; the second officer, Indian national Chandan Kumar Singh, 25; and an employee of the ship's manager, Turkish national Behzat Tokgoz, 42. 

Presiding magistrate Aden Stroude denied the men's request for bail, given their foreign nationality, the seriousness of the charges and the potential flight risk, according to local media.

Head prosecutor Roger Gaspard intends to pursue forfeiture proceedings against the vessel in order to seize her and sell her. The proceeds of the sale would be held until the outcome of the trial, according to the police service. 

The 1997-built Throne is a Turkish-owned freighter of 5,000 dwt. Over the past 10 years, she has accumulated over 130 recorded deficiencies and four PSC detentions, according to her Equasis record.