GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Cayman Islands security authorities are beefing up customs security at all entrance points amid rising fears that criminal and narcotics gangs from other regional locations are targeting the Caribbean territory.
The Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory with strong EU connections, is a major global offshore financial center.
Neighboring territories in the Caribbean and Latin America are facing increased criminal activity as armed drug gangs relocate to the area in response to a vigorous crackdown on their activities by the United States, Mexico, Colombia and other regional countries.
Cayman Islands include the islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica.
The islands' total population of about 55,000 has one of the highest annual gross incomes at $47,000 per capita.
Help with the tougher customs entry measures will be provided by Canadian security technology firm Smiths Detection, which said the contract covering the service was its largest so far with the Cayman Islands Customs Department.
Among preventive hardware chosen for installation are the HCVM, a high-energy X-ray cargo inspection system designed to cut the flow of weapons, narcotics and contraband in and out of the territory.
"The acquisition of the HCVM is the most advanced technology procurement of its kind in the Caribbean to date, demonstrating our commitment to combat drug smuggling and other prohibited/restricted items and safeguard customs revenue," said Jeff Jackson, assistant collector of the Cayman Islands Customs.
The HCVM uses the viZual threat identification technology and can distinguish between organic and inorganic substances by using color-coded material discrimination.
The company says the system allows the detection of narcotics and other suspect substances hidden in standard commercial shipments.
Coupled with other HI-SCAN Cargo Inspection Systems, the full array of scanners will help reduce the need for manual inspections by showing customs officials that goods in containers match those declared on the manifest.
Smiths Detection Director of Sales for Latin America and Caribbean Eduardo Parodi said the Caribbean installation would be Smiths Detection's fifth High Energy System deployment in the region.
"All our systems have had a strong history of return on investment for their end users in terms of narcotics seizures as well as revenue collection," Parodi said.
"The effective use of advanced technology supported by our investments in regional service capabilities truly allows Smiths Detection to stand out among competing manufacturers," he said.
Cayman Islands' sensitive status as a financial hub has meant that government, politicians and law enforcement agencies have faced criticism they all try to play down crime on the islands.
The Cayman News Service Web site warned "violent crime has become commonplace and there can be no hope of reversing the trend without an honest assessment of what went wrong in the first place."
The U.S. State Department in a travel advisory warned of increased criminal activity involving Jamaican gangs, including gang and drug-related shootings. The department warned U.S. citizens to stay clear of traffickers dealing in soft and hard drugs.