Drug Smuggling Alert for Commercial Shipping

drug smugglers

Published Feb 16, 2015 8:36 PM by The Maritime Executive

The use of vessel to smuggle contraband is not new, but it is a risk which shipowners should continue to take very seriously, as there has been an upsurge in smuggling attempts in the Caribbean, says insurer Skuld in an alert to shipowners. 

The Caribbean has a long romanticized image of seaborne crime, i.e. piracy, but the reality of the situation is very serious, says the insurer. Recently the United States introduced a new plan to deal with the issue, as it is estimated that drug smuggling activities may have more than doubled in the last three years. Part of the reason for this increased seaborne activity by smugglers is the increased vigilance at the U.S. Mexico border, which means new routes are being sought in to the U.S. and alternative routes are being expanded.

Regional authorities are also stepping up their response to this situation.

In their Circular of February 2015, Cariconsults explain how the approach of the authorities has developed over time and gives guidance as to what may be expected in several key risk areas around the region including Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica.

Any inspection by the authorities for contraband needs to be treated as a serious matter, and full co-operation should be extended by the master and crew of the vessel if police or other law enforcement come on board. Should an issue arise at any stage, then the Club's nearest correspondent should be contacted urgently.

The smugglers use many different routes and methods to further their aims, which include the use of commercial aircraft, small planes, speedboats, yachts, even an attempted submarine venture, but they also target commercial vessels. Shipments may be as small as 50 kg and as large as a ton or more.

Over time Skuld has seen many different attempts being made to use a commercial ship as a drug mule, including:

•    hiding contraband in the accommodation block
•    hiding contraband on deck, say in lifeboats or fire fighting equipment lockers and other such places
•    attaching the drugs to the hull of the vessel
•    using cargo, such as bananas, to disguise the drugs
•    advanced techniques, including the suspension of cocaine in engine oil, inside a piece of general cargo

These are just some of the examples, and the smugglers employ ever more creative methods towards their criminal design.

The consequences of crew and/or the vessel being found to be in possession of drugs - for whatever reason - can be very severe. This has in the past led to a vessel being confiscated and crew being jailed, notably in the matter of the MV B Atlantic which has also become a significant case with respect to the scope of war risks insurance.

Protecting vessels and crews, will require training, clear guidelines and procedures, good shore support and diligent follow up on board.

Risk management steps include:

•    educating crew in advance about the risks and consequences
•    check the latest local security situation with shipping agents
•    have a clear company policy about drugs and alcohol
•    ensure that such policy is followed in practice
•    make anti-drug risk management procedures a part of clear ISPS compliance on board the vessel
•    keep clear logs and records of all visitors and port related activity
•    undertake hull inspections before departure.

Source: Skuld and Cariconsult International Limited.