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Seized Scripps Research Vessel Returned by Customs Service

Times Staff Writer

A research ship operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography and seized earlier this week by the U. S. Customs Service under its “zero tolerance” anti-drug policy was released Thursday, authorities said.

Under “constructive seizure” procedures, the ship’s operators were given custody of the vessel Thomas Washington, provided they return the ship if subsequent proceedings require payment or forfeiture of the vessel, a Customs Service spokeswoman said.

Scripps administrators were still waiting, however, to hear whether or not they would have to pay a fine to Customs after the alleged find by drug-sniffing dogs of 1 gram of marijuana in the berth of a crew member.

“There’s still a technical, legal seizure,” said Tom Collins, associate director for administration at Scripps.

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“But we’re allowed to go on and operate. We have to let Customs know where we’ll be going, what we’ll be doing, who’s on board.”

Scripps administrators feared costs of as much as $150,000 a day if the ship was prevented from going on a scheduled research trip Saturday to study marine life off Hawaii. At first, negotiations between the Customs Service and Scripps were hampered by questions of culpability, Collins said.

“We have gone way out of our way to achieve compliance” with anti-drug laws, he said. “The actions on the part of Customs are excessive.” Scripps is still tied up in an administrative process and no one is sure when it will be finished, he added.

Kenneth G. Racca Jr., 28, of San Diego, who works as a wiper on the ship, was scheduled to be arraigned in Hawaii today on charges of possession and importation of a controlled substance, but Scripps did not have details.

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Under zero tolerance, customs officials have been seizing “all conveyances used to transport illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia in order to discourage drug use that creates a demand for drug trafficking,” said George Roberts, Honolulu district director of Customs.


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