Shipping securityMajor shipping companies inadvertently aid smugglers

Published 8 February 2012

A new study on sea trafficking reveals that the large majority of ships involved in the illegal transfer of weapons, drugs, and banned missile or WMD equipment are owned by major shipping companies in the United States, Germany, and Greece

A new study on sea trafficking reveals that the large majority of ships involved in the illegal transfer of weapons, drugs, and banned missile or WMD equipment are owned by major shipping companies in the United States, Germany, and Greece.

In the first comprehensive study of maritime trafficking, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that smugglers secretly stashed their illegal cargo aboard reputable ships owned by major companies to avoid seeming suspicious.

Using a tactic pioneered by drug smugglers, weapons traffickers evaded UN embargoes on Iran and North Korea by hiding illegal goods in sealed shipping containers in an effort to pass them off as legal goods aboard a foreign-owned ship with a legitimate track record. In addition the smugglers often used circuitous shipping routes to make their goods more difficult to track.

Containerization has revolutionized international trade, but it also provides ideal cover for traffickers. So many shipping containers pass through the world’s ports every day that only a fraction can be inspected,” said Hugh Griffiths, the report’s co-author.

Ship owners and even customs officers often just have to take it on trust that what’s inside the container is what it says on the cargo documents”.

The study was careful to note that the owners of the ships and their captains were not involved.

“This doesn’t mean the ship owners, or even the captains, know what they are carrying. But it is relatively easy for traffickers to hide arms and drugs in among legitimate cargoes,” Griffiths said.

In the instances where ship owners, operators, or captains were in league with the traffickers, the ships were often older, poorly managed, and did not perform well in safety and pollution inspections at ports.

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