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Joint Container Control Programme targets international trade criminals

Brussels, 8 October 2009

Joint Container Control Programme targets international trade criminals

Since the launch of the joint Container Control Programme (CCP) between the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) in 2005, seizures of illicit goods at participating ports have steadily increased; severely denting the activities of organized criminal syndicates and others who exploit maritime containers by attempting to conceal drugs and other illegal goods among regular containerized cargo or within a container.

The Programme was developed for the purpose of assisting governments to create sustainable enforcement structures at selected sea ports to minimize the risk of maritime containers being exploited and used for illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and other forms of black market activity.

With more than 420 million sea containers moving around the globe every year, transporting 90% of the world’s cargo according to the UNODC, the development and implementation of the CCP was critical given today’s international security concerns, the noticeable increase in criminal activities, and the growing artfulness in the way these criminals attempt to smuggle and route goods around the world in order to avoid controls that impede their illegal goods reaching the market place. In fact, officials often risk their lives as traffickers stop at nothing to disguise their contraband and sometimes use dangerous cover loads such as potentially radioactive scrap metal to conceal heroin and cocaine.

Keeping in mind that seaports can process from several hundred to 50,000 containers daily, the WCO, funded by the UNODC, has been training Customs, police and other law enforcement officials at several ports identified as major hubs for maritime shipments of cocaine from Latin America, opiates from Afghanistan and heroin from South-East Asia. To date, the CCP is in operation at ports situated in Ecuador, Senegal, Ghana, Pakistan and more recently Cape Verde, Turkmenistan, Panama, and Costa Rica with further plans to extend the Programme to other ports in due course. A pledge has also been received from the European Commission to fund additional CCP activities.

WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, said, “ The Joint Port Control Units established under the CCP have recorded some excellent seizures. These joint local operations are a classic example of coordinated border management in action and a validation of the WCO's risk indicators that were used to target the shipments.” He added, “ The WCO is pleased to be a part of this international effort, in partnership with the UNODC, to secure world trade and protect people’s health and safety through coordinated cooperation”.

The under mentioned selection of seizures demonstrate the steady success of the programme:

In Ecuador, seizures have included contraband electrical items; whiskey and vodka valued at US$ 1.5 million; cocaine totalling more than 2.5 tonnes; 9 tonnes of shark fins, an endangered species; 1.545 tonnes of protected wood in 45 containers; 4.5 million counterfeit cigarettes; and three containers with counterfeit goods. The country has also been instrumental in cocaine seizures made at seaports in Belgium, the Netherlands and the Ukraine through the sharing of intelligence.

Pakistan has also had several noticeable successes. In 2008 officials intercepted several shipments carrying illicit chemicals, including 14,000 kg of acetic anhydride, a precursor substance used in the production of heroin; 4,500 kg of acetyl chloride, a chemical used to convert morphine into heroin; and 8 tonnes of marijuana. Seizures of acetic anhydride are rare in this region, this being the first since 2001, such a quantity could have been used to produce at least 5,600 kg of heroin. Based on CCP targeting techniques, in September 2009 147 kg of heroin from Pakistan was intercepted in China concealed in cotton yarn bundles as a result of intelligence submitted by Pakistan. A further 7 seizures of heroin totalling 6.5 kg have been made this year.

In Ghana, three stolen luxury cars in containers coming from Spain that were declared as personal effects were intercepted. September 2009 witnessed the seizure of 167 kg of cocaine in a cargo ship that had come from Brazil.

Senegal, like Ghana, is also considered a potential transit country for cocaine shipments to Europe as well as an entry point for counterfeit products from the Far East, particularly medicines, other pharmaceutical products, cigarettes and tobacco. Although there have been no illicit drug seizures to date, the Port Control Unit remains vigilant and did as a result of training received, correctly profile a maritime container which upon inspection was found to contain a variety of stuffed trophy animals that contravened the provisions of the CITES Convention.

CCP activities complement the work of the WCO and the UNODC in fighting all forms of international trade crime with a view to ensuring a secure trade environment which will contribute significantly to world efforts to promote faster economic recovery following the global financial crisis.


Programme coordinators

Mr. Ulrich Meiser, World Customs Organization

Mr. Ketil Ottersen, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

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