• Joseph O'Donnell

Drug smuggling in ocean containers on the rise as cargo ships become larger.

Over the past two decades cargo ships have nearly doubled in size to accommodate the consistent growth in global trade. Consequently, the increased cargo volume has made it easier for smugglers to hide their illegal goods within ocean containers.


According to an article from the Wall Street Journal, "ocean carriers saw a series of seizures of large shipments of drugs in the U.S. and Europe in 2019" which indicates that commercial vessels are being utilized by drug traffickers at a growing rate.


The article also mentions a study done by Resilience 360, which states that seizures of cocaine found on both commercial and private vessels have more than tripled globally over the past 3 years.


Many of these seizures take place throughout some of Europe's largest ports such as Rotterdam, Hamburg and terminals within Spain and the U.K.


Cocaine is also being moved at a growing rate via ships sailing regional South America routes. This past November, Brazil's Department of Federal Revenue stated that the quantity of cocaine being smuggled through its country's ports rose 50% in the first 10 months of 2019 compared to the previous year.


This issue drew large attention within the U.S. in June of 2019 when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents made their largest cocaine seizure in U.S. history.


The seizure took place at the port of Philadelphia where federal agents seized roughly 20 tons of cocaine that were aboard the MSC Gayane. The vessel was sailing on a route from Chile and was scheduled to make port calls in Rotterdam and Antwerp.

U.S. Customs & Border Protection agents unloading 20 tons of cocaine from freight containers aboard the MSC Gayane in Philadelphia. Photo taken by the U.S. Customs & Border Protection agency

Law enforcement and shipping company executives have recently suggested raising the frequency of container checks to three out of every 10 containers instead of the current one out of every 10 containers.


The increase in ocean container checks would raise the risk of smuggling illegal goods on vessels in the hope of reducing the number of drug trafficking attempts via cargo ships.


More frequent inspections could cause shipment delays as more containers will be stopped in search for illegal goods. Shipping companies have also discussed increasing the level of security on vessels to help reduce the rate of smuggling.


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