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Crime in a box:
Ports crack down on trafficking of arms, drugs and human beings

The Guatemalan Congress votes in favour of a legal reform proposed by the International Commission Against Impunity. The Commission has proposed reforms including changes to the law on immunity and to laws on criminal procedures and organized crime. 2008. Photo/CICIG
Customs officers in Antwerp, Belgium, remove 43 kilos of cocaine
from a container that originated in Ecuador, after a tip-off from
port authorities in Guayaquil, participants in the UNODC-WCO
Container Control Programme. 2009.

An estimated 420 million containers of cargo are shipped around the world every year virtually uninspected – allowing shipments of weapons, narcotics, and other illegal goods to enter countries undetected. A UN programme to beef up port control measures in developing countries gained momentum in 2008, with more countries signing on in Latin America and additional funding secured for anti-trafficking efforts in key countries such as Afghanistan and Iran.

The Story

The use of freight containers to smuggle explosives, drugs and other contraband goods has been a cause of increasing concern, especially for developing countries that lack the capacity to set-up effective trade security and inspection mechanisms at their ports and borders.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has launched a Container Control Programme (CCP) that aims to help governments improve law enforcement capacity to  prevent drug trafficking and other illicit activity, as well as facilitate legitimate trade. The programme provides training to assist port authorities in identifying and inspecting high-risk freight containers and improving security in the ports. The programme is operational in Ecuador, Ghana, Pakistan, Senegal, Turkmenistan and, most recently, Panama, a global hub for the transport of freight containers.

Under the programme, joint operations are conducted between enforcement authorities at ports of origin, transit and destination. The programme also promotes partnerships among law enforcement agencies to develop closer cooperation, intelligence and information exchange mechanisms, as well as links to the business community to encourage trade. To assist in counter-terrorism efforts, the Container Control Programme utilizes experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who provide training to improve strategies for detection and response to illicit trafficking of nuclear material.

A Container Control project launched in Pakistan in 2008, established port inspection teams in the seaports of Karachi and Port Qasim. Training is set to begin in the summer of 2009 for seven inland container terminals, or dry ports, which are linked to seaports in the national transport network.

UNODC has secured funding to launch the Container Control Programme in Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in late 2009. Part of a larger, region-wide UNODC strategy to strengthen border control between Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, the programme also aims to boost counter-terrorism efforts in the region.
In Latin America, impressive seizures of illicit shipments in Ecuador during the pilot phase of the Container Control Programme – including nine tons of shark fins, 20,000 kg of acetic acid (a precursor chemical used in the manufacture of illicit narcotic drugs), and 4 million counterfeit cigarettes – have attracted the interest of other countries. UNODC is now negotiating agreements with Costa Rica. Brazil also has expressed an interest in participating in the programme.

The Context



United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):
Ketil Ottersen, Senior Programme Coordinator
Tel: +43 1 2606 05528

World Customs Organization:
Press enquiries
Tel: +32 (0)2 209 9442



United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme, June 2009 Progress Report

UNODC article: Panama gets on board to boost port security

UNODC press release: UNODC Training Leads to Drugs Seizure at Ghanaian Port

World Customs Organization

UN News Centre