Costa Rica signs up to improve security in ports

Photo: Mexican navy officials seize cocaine stuffed inside frozen sharks

25 August 2009 - Costa Rica is now the latest State to have joined the Container Control Programme after signing a memorandum of understanding with UNODC.

The Programme is a joint initiative between UNODC and the World Customs Organization to assist Governments by providing training and equipment at selected seaports to minimize the risk of maritime containers being used for drug and human trafficking, transnational organized crime and other forms of black market activity.

The purpose of the agreement is to improve and optimize the preventive actions carried out by authorities at the Limón-Moín port complex and at the port of Caldera. In turn, this will reduce the risk of ports being used for illegal activities, specifically trafficking in drugs, diverting chemical precursors (chemicals required for the manufacture of cocaine, heroin and stimulants such as amphetamine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy), smuggling goods, evading taxes and, possibly, committing terrorist acts. The control and investigation units currently involved in the agreement would thus become more effective.

In the memorandum, it was agreed that a joint control unit would be established to improve coordination and analysis, as well as to increase the exchange of information in real time. By sharing human and technical resources, the institutions involved will avoid duplicating their activities and facilitate international trade.

The use of containers for smuggling has been in the news recently. It has been reported, for example, that the Mexican navy seized over a ton of cocaine stuffed inside 20 frozen sharks. Armed navy officers, masked to protect their identity, cut open the carcasses of sharks filled with slabs of cocaine after checking the contents of a container from Costa Rica in a port in the southern Mexican State of Yucatán.

The effectiveness of the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme was demonstrated in Karachi, Pakistan, where two separate containers on a ship headed for Turkey and supposedly containing natural mustard were found to be carrying opium poppy seeds instead.

Those seizures demonstrate that criminal organizations are taking advantage of the fact that about 420 million containers are shipped every year (90 per cent of all world trade), of which only 2 per cent are inspected.

Currently, the following States participate in the Container Control Programme: Ecuador, Ghana, Pakistan, Panama, Senegal and Turkmenistan. The Programme continues to expand as more and more Member States recognize its importance.

UNODC actively promotes the expansion of the Container Control Programme to other countries.

Related information

Container Programme Progress Report June 2009