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Nelson gets new customs drug analysers

07:43 | 05/11/2016

VCN- Nelson is one of 12 locations to benefit from time-saving new technology aimed at stopping prohibited items at our borders.

nelson gets new customs drug analysers

Customs Minister Nicky Wagner receives a demonstration of the new analyser from Customs officer Tim Williams.

The New Zealand Customs service is deploying 14 new FirstDefender handheld chemical identification devices to enhance its border protection capabilities.

The mobile technology is produced by US-based company Thermo Fisher Scientific and, according to the company's website, the analysers are used worldwide for military, law enforcement and civilian purposes.

Through a point-and-shoot laser mechanism it safely analyses and identifies unknown substances, often without the need to open the packaging.

Identification can also be obtained by placing a vial of the substance inside the device.

They are then matched against a database of over 11,000 illicit and legal substances to provide an accurate result within seconds.

The database is continually updated to include new and emerging drugs and chemical properties.

Customs Minister Nicky Wagner said last week the devices would be a fundamental piece of equipment for frontline officers, making drug identification quicker, safer and more efficient.

Nelson's customs office is based at the Port and part of its job is ensuring illegal, dangerous or objectionable materials are kept out of the country.

FirstDefender's benefits have been noticed by their North Island colleagues, according to Auckland-based Customs border operations manager Lloyd Smith.

"For us it's gold because it identifies something as being a prohibited import but it also tells our officers how they might need to effectively protect themselves from it," he said.

Smith pointed out that it was not a general detector, meaning staff were still required to rely on their profiling and intelligence systems to isolate rogue cargo.

"There's millions of parcels that come through each year [so] you couldn't wave it at a stack of packages and go, 'it's over there', we actually have to find the substance itself."

Smith said the value of the FirstDefender was highlighted recently when his team was summoned to a van being examined on an Auckland wharf which contained an unknown bag of white powder.

Using the standard acid-based nick test to determine the substance, the powder sample was then driven through Auckland traffic to the customs ESR screening laboratory in Mangere for further testing.

It was harmless and legal, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) powder.

"That was pretty quick but it's probably taken three or four hours of man hours to establish that - whereas if we had the FirstDefender deployed they would have been down there in 15 minutes, fired the laser through the plastic bag and said 'it was PVC, it's clear to go'."

Customs staff are undergoing training at Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to familiarise themselves with the FirstDefender.

Along with Nelson, other locations to receive the device are Opua, Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, Queenstown and Bluff.

Source: Stuff.co.nz