12 June 2009 - More than 420 million containers move around the globe by sea every year, transporting 90 per cent of the world's cargo. Most carry licit goods, but some are being used to smuggle drugs, weapons, even people. To improve container security, in 2003 UNODC teamed up with the World Customs Organization (WCO) to launch the Container Control Programme.
The Programme is designed to assist port authorities in developing countries to establish profiling systems and modern control techniques with a view to ensuring proper control and enforcement without causing unnecessary disruptions in the commerce of legal goods. The Programme is now operational in Ecuador, Ghana, Pakistan, Senegal and Turkmenistan. This month, Panama became the latest partner.
"In terms of volume and profile, the addition of Panama to the Container Control Programme puts us in a whole new league", said Ketil Ottersen, the senior UNODC official responsible for coordinating the Programme. "The port of Panama (including the Panama Canal and four container terminals) is a highly strategic maritime hub, servicing 11 million containers a year - by far the largest segment in the Programme".
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Troels Vester, UNODC crime prevention adviser in the region, said "the move will have a strong impact on illicit goods being trafficked to North America as well as Europe". He underlined the need to create inter-agency port units, introduce risk assessment techniques and share information among ports.
It is foreseen that a maritime centre of excellence and a UNODC regional office will be established in Panama City. "This is a manifestation of our deepening engagement in Central America and the Caribbean", said UNODC Director of Operations Francis Maertens.
Among the ports involved in the WCO-UNODC Container Control Programme, training is starting to show results. This year, several tons of cocaine have been seized at the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Officials at Port Tema, Ghana, have intercepted a number of luxury cars and 72 kg of cocaine. In Karachi, Pakistan, teams have uncovered significant amounts of precursor chemicals used to convert morphine into heroin, as well as 8 tons of cannabis.
The Container Control Programme is also making waves in other places. Tip-offs given by officials in participating ports are leading to seizures elsewhere, for example in Antwerp, Belgium, and Hamburg, Germany, where cocaine busts have taken place. This trend should increase thanks to the innovative ContainerComm intelligence system. This system, developed by WCO, facilitates communication between ports and provides vital information that can be used for risk assessments and container profiling.
More information on the Container Control Programme will be available in the forthcoming Global Container Analysis Report 2008.