Security February 2019 Do you know what’s on board your ship? Probably not. By Mette Kronholm Frænde, Communications Manager and Editor at BIMCO Cocaine, illegal timber, arms, cash, chemical weapons...and sea horses. Rarely are the crew, shipowner, operator or importer aware that their ships and containers are abused and used for illegal transport, and rarely is the crew on board involved. Cocaine production is on the rise, more of it is transported by sea, the quantities smuggled are growing and the creativity of the criminals knows no bounds. Bob Van den Berghe, head of the United Nations Container Control Programme in Latin America and the Caribbean, talks to the Bulletin about the current challenges and trends in the world of smuggling. “At some point, you just know that something is wrong” Last year, the Container Control Programme (CCP) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) seized more than 50 tons of cocaine in Latin America and the Caribbean alone. Bob Van den Berghe is a law enforcement expert with more than 14 years of experience in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, fighting all types of organised crime. Van den Berghe was a member of Belgium’s Federal Judicial Police Corps from 1991 to 2014. “We found around 90 containers with items that violated intellectual property rights in 2018. We also found containers with cigarettes, arms and ammunition, cash, timber and chemical precursors – even some containing seahorses coming out of Ecuador heading for Asia,” says Van den Berghe. The programme is not only focused on drugs, but on anything that can be transported in an illicit way using containers. “When you are working in law enforcement, at some point, you just know that something is wrong with the container or the load, but it does not always tell you what is going to be wrong or what you will find,” Van den Berghe says. Bigger loads heading for Europe Cocaine production is rising and the bulk of it is destined for Europe. Most goes via Port of Santos in Brazil, the biggest port in Latin America, but there is a substantial amount smuggled through Ecuador, Columbia and Panama too. Of the 50 tons of cocaine seized by the CCP, 40 were destined for Europe, 20 tons of which were bound for Antwerp in Belgium. “We are seeing a trend where the bulk of cocaine heading for Europe goes to Antwerp. You also see cocaine going to some of the Spanish ports and The Netherlands, Sweden, the UK, Germany, Greece and France,” Van den Berghe says. “Another trend that we are seeing is that criminal organisations are transporting bigger quantities in one go than ever before. We used to see around 300kg being transported in one load, but now, they are much bigger with loads of around one to two tons in one container.” Staff on the ground takes the lead A growing trend is the use of containers belonging to people who are unaware that their property is being used for criminal purposes. Smugglers break open the door of a container in a port, stash the cocaine hidden in sports bags and close it up. The source country smugglers then notify their partners from the criminal organisation in the port of destination, sharing information about which containers they have targeted. They just “They just open the door, take out the bags and disappear. Neither the exporter, nor the people who are importing, or the crew on board has a clue that containers have been tampered with. The criminals co-operate with dockers, port workers and other people who have access, or simply break through the fences to get to the containers in question,” Van den Berghe says. That being the case, the crew on board need not be involved, as the contamination of the containers is done before they are loaded onto the ship, and the recovery of the smuggled goods is carried out in the port of destination. open the door, take out the bags and disappear Last year, the CCP of the UNODC and the WCO seized more than 50 tons of cocaine in Latin America and the Caribbean alone A range of vessels is used for smuggling, as cocaine can be hidden in the structure of any ship. He says there are many places on a ship where cocaine can be hidden: the machine room, kitchen, a crew member’s room or in the containers. Another method is by using ‘torpedoes’ – metal structures attached to the vessel under the waterline by divers employed by the criminal organisation, and recovered at the destination port in a similar way. Should crew discover cocaine or anything else illegal on board the ship, the decision of what to do with it lies with the captain. “Most of the time, the captain knows his procedures. He or she will contact headquarters and they will contact the law enforcement agency in question,” Van den Berghe says. Connect with BIMCO Facts about the Container Control Programme In 2004, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the WCO launched the CCP. The aim of the programme is to profile, identify and inspect potential high-risk consignments. Today, the CCP operates in more than 60 countries and maintains strategic alliances with various security organisation in countries with operational ports. These include customs, police, maritime institutions and others in the private sector. Photo (top): iStock / Mihajlo Maricic Unusual discoveries Van den Berghe and his teams have made some unusual finds over time. “We have found drugs in the structure of the ship, in the ceiling, in the walls and the structure of the door. We have also found drugs in fresh fruits – in pineapple – and we have even discovered plastic bananas containing cocaine. “There are many inventive ways of transporting drugs. We have found them in barrels containing palm oil that is later treated in order to separate the cocaine from the oil at the destination. Some smugglers are more inventive than others. Sometimes we see that certain trends come back, only to disappear again. Sometimes it feels like we are one or two steps behind, but usually we do manage to stay on top of the trends,” Van den Berghe says.