Carriers, global Customs unite against drug trafficking

Carriers, global Customs unite against drug trafficking
Hong Kong Customs officers on January 10 found 104 bricks of suspected cocaine worth US$17.8 million hidden in a reefer container shipped from Surinam. Two men were charged with trafficking in a dangerous drug. Photo from HK Customs & Excise
  • Shipping industry and Customs authorities met in early June over a joint strategy to intensify the campaign against drug trafficking
  • World Shipping Council and the Container Control Programme organized the meeting. CCP is a joint initiative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organization
  • The UNODC 2021 World Drug Report says around 275 million people worldwide had used drugs in 2021, while over 36 million suffered from drug-use disorders

Carriers and Customs authorities from across the globe came together in early June to unite against drug trafficking, the World Customs Organization said.

The conference was organized by the World Shipping Council (WSC) and the Container Control Programme (CCP), a joint initiative between the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organization.

According to the UNODC 2021 World Drug Report, around 275 million people worldwide had used drugs in the last year, while more than 36 million suffered from drug use disorders.

The resilience of drug markets during the pandemic has once again demonstrated traffickers’ ability to adapt quickly to changed environments and circumstances, with recent developments including increasingly large shipments of illicit drugs, as well as a rise in the frequency with which overland and waterway routes are being used for trafficking.

For example, on January 10 this year, Hong Kong Customs seized about 135 kilograms of suspected cocaine with an estimated market value of HK$140 million (US$17.8 million) at the city’s container port. The illicit drug was found in a seaborne container declared as a cargo of frozen meat from Surinam.

Customs officers found 104 bricks of the drug hidden in the refrigerated compartments of the container. Two men were arrested and charged with trafficking in a dangerous drug.

The goal of the conference was to counter these developments by enhancing relationships and communications between the ocean liner industry and Customs officials.

The Customs authorities of Ecuador, Panama, Belgium, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Turkey, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States presented their challenges and successes in the campaign.

They also shared information on drug traffickers’ ability to abuse the ocean liner link in the supply chain and the tactics they employ.

WSC member carriers provided insights into the everyday operations of the ocean liner industry and the strategies and procedures employed to prevent crime, as well as opening lines of communication to build relationships with Customs authorities.

Several recurring themes emerged during the conference, most prevalent of which were:

  • The need for greater transparency of information on container shipment data;
  • The need for cross-training efforts between Customs authorities and liner carriers, and
  • The need to identify and remove insider threats.

WSC, WCO and UNODC said they were very proud of the work done and are confident the relationships built in Brussels will lead to new and enhanced efforts to combat the illicit drug trade.

“Narcotics are a scourge for societies across the globe, destroying lives, families and communities,” said John Butler, WSC president and chief executive.

“Liner carriers will not tolerate having their services abused by criminals, and WSC is committed to supporting the Customs community with insight into ocean liner industry operations, providing open communications and exchanging information to combat drug traffickers.”

Norbert Steilen, WCO CCP senior coordinator, said the UNODC and WCO look forward to working with the WSC and its member shipping lines on training and awareness-raising .

“We need to sensitize each other to understand how we can work together for the benefit of us all, and increase the likelihood of detecting illegal shipments, while at the same time facilitating legal trade,” said Steilen.

Ketil Ottersen, UNODC head of CCP, added: “The team in charge of managing the CCP and all the 123 units created at ports across the world are committed to further developing the dialogue with the shipping industry to tackle the misuse of legitimate commercial transport by criminal organizations.”

The conference had brought together the best minds in the field, and WSC, WCO and UNODC will build on this network of people to enhance the fight against the illicit drug trade, the organizers said.