The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has recently released a study of arms and drug trafficking by ship. The headline is “Most ships involved in arms and drugs trafficking are based in world’s richest countries.” The larger part of the picture, however, is not ships, but containers. Containerization has revolutionized trade, including drug and arms trafficking. From the SIPRI press release:
The owners of the ships are primarily commercial shipping lines based in Germany, Greece and the USA, according to the report, which looks at all reported incidents involving larger ships during the past 20 years.
‘This doesn’t mean the ship owners, or even the captains, know what they are carrying. But it is relatively easy for traffickers to hide arms and drugs in among legitimate cargoes,’ says report co-author Hugh Griffiths.
The report also shows that the methods adopted by arms trafficking networks in response to the UN arms embargoes on Iran and North Korea were pioneered by drug traffickers in the past few decades to evade detection. These methods include hiding the goods in sealed shipping containers that claim to carry legitimate items; sending the goods on foreign-owned ships engaged in legitimate trade; and using circuitous routes to make the shipments harder for surveillance operations to track.
‘Containerization has revolutionized international trade, but it also provides ideal cover for traffickers. So many shipping containers pass through the world’s ports every day that only a fraction can be inspected. Ship owners and even customs officers often just have to take it on trust that what’s inside the container is what it says on the cargo documents,’ says Griffiths.
In those cases where the ship owners and/or captains are directly involved in trafficking of drugs or arms, the ships tend to be the older “rust buckets” usually poorly maintained and often sailing under “flags of convenience.”