Ships involved in gun and drug trafficking: report

Most ships involved in reported cases of sanctions-busting, or illicit transfers of arms, drugs and ­equipment that could be used in the development of missiles and weapons of mass destruction, are owned by companies based in the world’s richest countries, according to a study of maritime trafficking.

The ships are primarily commercial lines based in Germany, Greece and the United States, stated the report released recently by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

‘This doesn’t mean the shipowners, or even the captains, know what they are carrying. But it is relatively easy for traffickers to hide arms and drugs among legitimate cargoes,” said ­co-author Hugh Griffiths.

The report revealed that the methods adopted by arms-trafficking networks in response to United Nations embargoes on Iran and North Korea were pioneered by drug traffickers.
They included hiding goods in sealed shipping containers that supposedly carried legitimate items and using circuitous routes to make the shipments harder for surveillance operations to track.

‘Containerisation has revolutionised 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.

‘Shipowners and even customs officers often just have to take it on trust that what is inside the container is what it says on the cargo ­documents,” Griffiths said.

The report indicated that in cases in which the shipowners, operators and captains appeared to have been directly involved in the trafficking attempt, the ships tended to be older and sailing under ‘flags of convenience”.

They regularly performed badly in safety and pollution inspections when they entered ports.—

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