The Customs Department has strengthened its fight against illegalities and organised crime in matters of drugs trafficking, money laundering, contraband and tobacco and for the first time has equipped itself with a squad of dogs specifically trained to carry out customs inspections at the airport and at ports.
TVM attended two training sessions during which the canines sniffed out drugs and tobacco among other items.
Customs Inspector Kevin Francica explained to TVM with these trained dogs, Customs will be much better equipped to carry out its duties.
Francica said this Customs Canine Unit will provide an effective and efficient safeguard with priority being given to detecting undeclared money emanating from illegal activities as well as drugs, cigarettes and tobacco.
Hilary Fenech, the Customs Official responsible for the training of the dogs informed TVM that the first eight dogs, including species such as Labradors, Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels will form the basis of the Canine Unit and by the year 2022 two new dogs will be recruited annually and eventually the Unit will have 14 dogs to meet its commitments.
Fenech explained the eight dogs are trained to sniff out tobacco, four to detect drugs and tobacco and the four others cash and tobacco.
As part of their training the dogs are being taken to places related to Customs activities including localities where postal packages are received. When a dog sniffs out drugs or a large consignment of money, they sit and look at their dog handler.
Hilary Fenech said training started in April and this was carried out by British Customs Officials specialising in this type of training. Progress has been significant with dogs and handlers already very familiar with each other.
The dogs were brought from England and experienced their first summer and this was slightly difficult for them. Dog and handler undergo eight weeks of training together at the end of which both handler and dog are evaluated.
The process of establishing this Canine Unit started in 2016 and contact was made with overseas entities already using such a unit. The next step is that by the end of next year the canine complex at ‘Ħal Far will have been completed. Currently the dogs are housed in the private kennels of a contractor who acquired the contract.