Drug smuggling has become one of the most serious threats to all civilized societies in modern history. Two of the major methods of smuggling drugs are through the usage of aircrafts and ships, secreted in cargoes and containers. A high proportion of drug trafficking is undertaken by sea because of the opportunities offered by the large volume of shipping traffic from producing to consuming nations as drug traffickers attempt to enter the most profitable illicit markets.
Especially vulnerable are ships on planned itineraries such as. liner vessels, which have fixed departure times and publicized destinations. Tramp vessels are also used today assuming that they will eventually end up in European and American ports.
Three factors should be borne in mind when considering the implications of illicit drug trafficking by commercial means of transport:
First, the very high value of illicit drugs when smuggled in large quantities has attracted the major international criminal organizations and terrorist groups. In Nigeria, the initial investment capital when compared to the final income on a successful outing has attracted a cartel of Drug Barons. The possibility of violent incidents, including armed assault, on discovering any sizeable quantity of drugs should not be overlooked and, consequently, due precaution should always be taken.
Secondly, the professional trafficker rarely carries the drugs himself, and usually finds an accomplice, willing, to do so. Merchant seamen are frequently targeted by drug traffickers anxious to get their products from producing to consuming countries. Often seafarers are not fully aware of the risks involves, which include long prison sentences and, in some countries, the death penalty.
Finally, there are no “safe” shipping routes where operator can be quite certain there are no illicit substances on their ships. Direct sailings from countries of supply to countries of consumption are clearly considered as a risk and receive special attention from custom authorities. However, increasing quantities of drugs are being moved along roundabout and circuitous routes, using ports of countries that are not drug producers and which drug traffickers believe invite less risk of interception in countries of destination. Port of the West and Central African are fast becoming transshipment route
In this context, shipping is vulnerable to drug trafficking on three fronts. First, the threat of drugs being concealed on vessels means that law enforcement efforts by customs authorities and other government security agencies may result in long delays to departing ships and the handling of cargo. Second, ship-owners and operators face potentially devastating fines or arrest of ships and penalties for importing illicit drugs, which even when they have no knowledge of the contraband and thirdly, the possible involvement of crew members in drug abuse threatens the safety of their vessels.
The level of security necessary to prevent illicit drugs being concealed on board vessels clearly depends on the level and nature of the risk. Carriers need to assess the threat and identify their vulnerability. Factors that should be taken into account include:
• Ports of call and routes taken by the vessel
• The origin and routing of the cargo
• The level of control exercised at shore facilities
• The degree of control exercised regarding access to the ship
• The vulnerability of the crew to pressure by drug traffickers
Today’s traffickers use a wide variety of routes, often trans-shipping the “drug cargo” several times until its country of origin is completely obscured. Few ports can now be considered safe from attempts to place drugs and other illicit substances on board, although ports in producing countries remain those in which the vessel is most at risk.
Ships are vulnerable to being used as a conduit for the movement of drugs:
• By crews, visitors, contractors, stevedores and chandlers. Even in some countries the Security Agents connived with traffickers
• In baggage, provisions, cargo and containers
• In cars, trucks and trailers shipped into the country
• Concealed on, in or attached to the infrastructure of the ship
Drug trafficking through vessels to illicit market of Western world where it attracts high prices were common when national lines of the countries of Western and Central African sub-region were operational. Common illicit drug on board was Indian hemps which are grown locally. The ship design in the late 70s and 80s were easy for hideout. While drugs were detected in ships air pipes, deck stores, engine room, cofferdams, oil tanks, life boat etc. They were also detected in dinning salon, smoke rooms and at times in crew/ passenger accommodation panels. There was a case where drugs were hidden under Captain’s dinning salon.
On majority of the cases of drug trafficking that were detected in foreign ports, no finger print of suspected crew member was found. This proved that while a seaman connived with the criminals, he was never – in -storage at the point of loading nor handled at the point of discharge.
Since the demise of the national shipping lines, there was not much of report in Europe about trafficking of illicit drugs from West African ports. The aviation industry which has brought new African Airlines emergence, has taken over carriage of illicit drugs from shipping traffic.
Of recent, shipment of hard drug (cocaine) was detected of the coast of Senegal in the vicinity of Port of Dakar.
The threats to maritime security posed to commercial shipping are by small vessels under 300grt. In West African ports they can be dug out large canoes with outboard engines or the so called fishing boats. Of recent the security agencies acting on a tip -off seized a large amount of packaged hard drug (cocaine) being off loaded from a pleasure yatch into “small boats” off the port of Dakar in Senegal.
Overall responsibility for the security of a ship, and the people on it, rest with the operating company and the company’s representative, the master. It is difficult for any organization to provide absolute security in every circumstance since commercial considerations, such as the need to continue operating and the cost of such security, have to be borne in mind. Security measures inevitably become a compromise between what is desirable and what is practicable in the circumstances.
Security measures, however, should relate directly to the level and nature of the risk of illicit drug trafficking in any particular location. The risk in the ports visited by ships needs to be reviewed regularly by both the company and the master, with the security measures being adjusted as appropriate.