South Asia: UNODC Container Control Programme targets illegal maritime trafficking

Nearly 90 percent of all trade globally is conducted via maritime containers. This amounts to approximately 500 million containers moving across the world annually. While the majority of these containers transport legal cargo, maritime trade is also highly vulnerable to trafficking of illegal goods. Freight containers are constantly targeted for the shipment of drugs, counterfeit goods and weapons which are smuggled alongside legal commodities.

However, less than 2 percent of containers are physically examined by law enforcement officials.

Traffickers and organized crime groups exploit weak, ineffective, inconsistent port controls and move illegal goods across the globe. They use sophisticated and ingenious concealment methods to smuggle contraband. There have been instances of cannabis being concealed behind fake walls in shipping containers and stolen luxury cars being smuggled in containers across continents.

In response to this threat, UNODC in partnership with the World Customs Organization (WCO) initiated the Container Control Programme with the aim to assist Governments in establishing effective container controls at select ports across the globe with the aim to prevent trafficking of drugs, chemicals and other contraband and to facilitate trade by strengthening cooperation between the customs, trade and enforcement communities. At the heart of the programme is the creation of joint port control units that are located at the port (both at sea and dry ports). The units comprise of front line officers from different enforcement agencies who work together, systematically profiling high risk containers.

The South Asia region, owing to its location between the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and the Golden Triangle (Vietnam, Laos and Thailand) is particularly vulnerable to the trafficking of opiates and heroin. In addition, there is widespread trafficking of cannabis, synthetic drugs and new psychotropic substances.

In response to this rising problem, UNODC initiated the Container Control Programme in South Asia in 2013.  Joint port control units were established at the ports of Male, Maldives and Colombo, Sri Lanka. At both ports, a first set of trainings consisting of a two-week theoretical training was conducted for 21 front line officers by international experts. Further training will be delivered to officials in intelligence gathering, interdiction of high risk containers and file management.

Since its establishment in 2004, the Container Control Programme has created more than 35 operational port control units worldwide, leading to significantly increased detections and confiscation of drugs and other illicit goods. 

Click here to know more about the Container Control Programme

The Container Control Programme in South Asia is possible thanks to the financial contribution of the United States of America.