Latin American port authorities are seizing more drug consignments and counterfeit goods along container routes thanks to a United Nations-backed initiative that is showing growing success after its inception six years ago.
Under the Container Control Programme – a joint project of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the independent, inter-governmental World Customs Organization – a newly established and trained Panamanian inter-agency profiling unit in the Pacific port of Balboa made their first seizures of containers carrying illicit goods.
“In only three weeks, the unit, which started operations in November, seized four containers from China, destined for Chile and Venezuela,” UNODC said in a news release on the programme, which assists port authorities in establishing profiling systems and in using modern control techniques to detect illegal goods in containers without causing disruptions in the commerce of legal goods.
“Inter-agency officials decided to inspect the respective containers because the declared goods were not consistent with the activity of the exporters. Large consignments of counterfeit T-shirts, fake branded shoes and towels were seized.”
Earlier, container monitoring officials in Guayaquil, Ecuador, seized 25 kilograms of cocaine worth $1.7million in Belgium at the retail level from a container filled with bananas. Tracking details showed that the container was on its way back to Guayaquil because it had been rejected in the port of Antwerp, Belgium.
Further investigations showed that several other containers had been similarly rejected there and three additional ones were found with a total of 75 kilograms of cocaine, worth over $5 million, hidden in the refrigeration section of the containers.
In September, three containers from the small town of El Carmen in Ecuador were seized with various amounts of cocaine. As a result, the Ecuadorian shipping line ordered inspections of all containers originating from El Carmen, which is allegedly harbouring Colombian drug traffickers.
The programme was launched in 2003 to improve container security. While most containers carry legal goods, some are used to smuggle drugs, weapons and even people. Exchange of information by officials in participating ports have led to seizures in Antwerp and Hamburg, Germany, where cocaine busts have taken place.
It is expected these seizures will increase thanks to the innovative ContainerComm intelligence system, developed by the World Customs Organization, which facilitates communication between ports and provides vital information for risk assessments and container profiling.
Countries currently participating in the programme include Ecuador, Ghana, Pakistan, Panama, Senegal and Turkmenistan.