About 90% of all trade is conducted via maritime containers of which more than 500 million are shipped yearly in the trade supply chain, and of this amount, less than 2% are inspected. The incredible volume of containers travelling the seas from country to country and continent to continent, make them important targets for actors in the illicit drug trade, and even more so for actors involved in producing and delivering counterfeit goods and merchandise. The global dependency on maritime trade, combined with not only sophisticated concealment methods employed by narco-traffickers or counterfeiters, but also diverse trafficking routes, make successful interdiction and intervention difficult. The situation, therefore, poses a serious threat to the international trade supply, as well as to sustainable development.
In this context, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organization (WCO) have come together to elaborate the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme (CCP). The CCP has a global reach and aims to fortify the structures and processes which allow for the application of sustainable laws for States and selected ports, so as to minimize the exploitation of maritime containers for the illicit trafficking of drugs, and other transnational organized crime activities. Hence, for greater efficiency, while facilitating cooperation in the fight against crime amongst states and international agencies involved in the regulation of container traffic, the programme maintains strategic alliances with various security entities within States with operational ports. These entities include Customs, the Police, Maritime Institutions and the private sector amongst others. It is also designed to strengthen and promote the alliances between the Customs, trade and enforcement communities in an effort to prevent the abuse of legitimate commercial trade for illicit activities while simultaneously making an effort to eradicate the inter-institutional mistrust and corruption that can hamper effective execution of the programme.
Coordination and the number of operational ports combine to form the key to the global success of the CCP and in total there are twenty countries with operational Joint Port Control Units (JPCUs), including the following countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Sustainability and efficiency are two elements pertinent to the CCP and to maximize the benefits of the programme careful consideration is given to these issues at the financial, institutional and policy levels. At the financial level, coherent frameworks allow activities to be sustained after the Programme’s completion by making efficient use of already available resources and without having to rely on substantial financial support. At the institutional level, national ownership is ensured from the beginning of the Programme through the selection of focal points within the respective Ministries and through active involvement of the national counterparts in the course of the development and implementation of programme activities. Sustainability is also ensured through catalysing change on the level of institutions via the creation of inter-agency Joint Port Control Units (JPCUs) in the selected ports and coordination frameworks, as well as through the establishment of lasting training structures within the programme.
Creation of inter-agency Joint Port Control Units
At the heart of the CCP is the creation of container profiling inter-agency port units at selected container terminals in seaports or dry ports. The units are located in a secure environment, preferably inside the ports, and staffed by front line personnel from different relevant law enforcement agencies. The officials are duly trained, through the use of risk analysis and other proactive techniques that allow to systematically target cargo manifestos and other relevant data to efficiently handle, imports, exports and high-risk containers in transit.
The training itinerary is broken down into various phases. The first phase consists of basic training which familiarizes trainees with the various international legal instruments and the principles concerning information sources, risk analysis and other profiling techniques, cargo inspection, information exchange mechanisms, port seizure investigations and trade facilitation. The use of the internet as an open information source is also addressed during training. Following this classroom training, trainees are then introduced to practical training in identifying and inspecting high risk containers which will be conducted by experienced trainers.
This basic training is then used during the advanced training stage in which specialized trainers conduct more specialized training such as targeting of CBRNe material. The array of subjects targeted during these specialized training sessions, take into consideration the specific needs and identified problems of the relevant countries. UNODC and WCO work closely with specialized agencies to deliver the necessary specialized training.
The third training phase consists of a Study Visit to a benchmarking port which provides the trainees with the unique opportunity to learn first-hand from experienced law enforcement officials and discover different working techniques.
The fourth phase encompasses regular mentorship by trainers. This mentorship is organized to warrant the sustainability of the program and to ensure that officials who are new to the programme are being adequately trained and posses the same level of skills as their colleagues.
The inter-agency container profiling units are equipped to exchange information with counterparts in other countries using a secure communication application developed by WCO called ContainerComm. This user friendly, internet based and multifunctional communication tool facilitates the encrypted exchange of sensitive information between authorized users in participating countries, including alert notices of the shipment of possible high-risk containers. It also allows users to verify container numbers. ContainerComm is both cost effective and requires no special installation. It is continually being enhanced and is available in English, French, Russian and Spanish.
The inter-agency container profiling units are also given access to a search and tracking system for containers. This system allows the users to search and track containers with specific destinations and also gives the user detailed information about the type of cargo, routing, freight payment methods and all information needed to profile and identify high-risk containers.
The CCP has produced significant results in seizures of illicit goods and merchandise since its inception. The Executive Director of UNODC, Mr. Yury Fedotov has stated that the CCP has had “spectacular results, intercepting maritime shipments of illicit drugs, endangered species, counterfeit goods and stolen cultural artefacts. The effects of this work speak for themselves and with the expansion of this programme into more and more countries it will help the authorities to further tackle criminal networks.”