VIENNA, 17 March (UNODC) - The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, congratulated Ecuador on Thursday on the seizure of more than 5.5 tons of cocaine in the port of Guayaquil.
The cocaine, with a street value of around $556 million in North America or Europe, was uncovered in a joint operation by police and customs, working together in a new Joint Port Control Unit set up with the support of UNODC.
"This is a stunning success by a major UNODC project," the UNODC Executive Director said. "Guayaquil has for decades been a haven for contraband. This massive seizure is a powerful shot across the bows of the drug traffickers."
Ecuadorean police and customs found 5,562 kilos of cocaine in a container loaded with bed sheets which arrived on a ship from the Colombian port of Buenaventura in December. They became suspicious after the container had lain in the port for several months as the cargo did not have the necessary certificates of origin.
The cocaine, mixed with plaster and glue, had been packed in the corrugated channels of cardboard dividers placed between different layers of sheets.
"This shipment was clearly part of a well thought-out cycle of deception by Colombian traffickers," Mr Costa said.
"I believe that UNODC can rightly take some of the credit for this seizure because we put in place the new port control unit. Police and customs are now working together as they never have before."
Some 220 million sea containers move around the world every year and only a tiny fraction are inspected.
UNODC and the World Customs Organization designed the Container Control Programme to assist governments in Ecuador, Senegal, Ghana and Pakistan to establish effective controls over the movement of containers and make it harder for terrorists and other criminals to use them for smuggling.
The project will be extended to other ports in the four pilot countries in 2006.
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