Shipping industry, Customs come together in fight against narcotics trafficking

Photography by: Getty Images


Representatives from shipping companies and Customs authorities came together for a conference in June to discuss ways to step up the fight against drug trafficking.

The conference was organised by the World Shipping Council and the Container Control Programme, a joint initiative between the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organisation.

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According to the UNODC 2021 World Drug Report, around 275 million people worldwide had used drugs in the last year, while over 36 million people 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.

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, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Turkey, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States presented their challenges and successes, sharing 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.

"Narcotics are a scourge for societies across the globe, destroying lives, families and communities," said John Butler, president & CEO of World Shipping Council.

"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," he said.

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

"We need to sensitise 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."

Ketil Ottersen, UNODC Head of CCP, said, "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 organisations".

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