The Air Intelligence Unit (AIU), Customs, arrested the father and son duo –– Mohammed Rafeek Mohideen and Mohammed Rafad Mohammed Rafeek –– of Sri Lanka at the airport when the consignment of sea cucumbers was in the process of being smuggled out to Singapore. A local court on Wednesday remanded the two to custody till December 26.
Customs Commissioner Bani Bhattacharya said: “They were carrying the dead sea cucumbers in six bags. They appeared extremely nervous when they were stopped after they checked in the baggage.”
The contraband was seized under the Customs Act, 1962 (read with Wildlife Protection Act, 1972). It is noteworthy that Mohammed Rafad was also booked by Customs officials in Chennai for smuggling Sea Horses in August 2010 and the matter is sub judice in Chennai.
A senior AIU official said: “They chose to travel from Bangalore owing to the case in Chennai and had travelled by road from Chennai.”
“...We are confident that they have no sources in Bangalore. Their agent is from Chennai and the same man had helped the duo travel to the City by road. We were very close in nabbing the driver who brought them here, but could not.”
The customs officials have also seized two passports from the son, besides fake invoices that said they were carrying dry fish. “The person has travelled several times out of his country and through Bangalore several times, even after his case in Chennai, where his original passport was seized and is in the possession of the court,” the official said.
The offenders even had a fake invoice from a person named Rafiq, who supposedly ordered it. But the trend in sea cucumber smuggling –– rampant in Indian waters around North Andaman Islands –– point to different avenues.
The customs official agreed that there was not a big enough market in Sri Lanka for such items.
Speaking to Deccan Herald, Coast Guards officials from Port Blair, who man the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Indian waters there, said: “The poachers are tempted to enter Indian Exclusive Economic Zone by the rich underwater wealth including Sea Cucumbers, Molluscs and Corals available in the North Andaman Sea.”
The smuggling of sea cucumber, which has high medicinal and aphrodisiac value, is rampant due to its high prices in the international market, they said, expressing surprise over Sri Lankan nationals being caught for smuggling it, and that too in Bangalore.
“The big markets are in places like China, Singapore and Malaysia. The general route taken while smuggling sea cucumbers is through the sea to Myanmar and then to China, from where it goes to the international market,” an official said.
Noting that sea cucumbers were available only in water that has coral growth, he said: “There are some restricted waters along the coast of Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu), where it may be available. If a person has travelled through Chennai, then this is the only place from where they could have got it.”
The Wildlife Protection Act bans the transportation of sea cucumber in any form for commercial use. It is also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, of which India is one of the signatories. (Source:Deccan Herald Online)