U.S. Coast Guard Intercepts Garlic Smugglers

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Published Jun 24, 2019 1:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

The United States Coast Guard recently scored its largest-ever bust of an important smuggling commodity: garlic. 

During a recent 59-day patrol in the Caribbean, the crew of the cutter Vigilant intercepted a go-fast boat carrying 7,800 pounds of illicit garlic from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. Garlic smuggling is a global issue, and it has had negative impacts on domestic agriculture in the Dominican Republic over the last several years. After hearing of the interdiction, the Dominican Navy sent a ship to meet the Vigilant to take over the case for the prosecution. The contraband was valued at approximately $30,000, and it was the largest Coast Guard seizure of its kind on record.

Garlic smuggling is a serious problem in Southeast Asia, Europe and many other regions as Chinese exporters overwhelm local suppliers. China produces an estimated 80 percent of the world's garlic supply, and it easily outcompetes other nations' farmers on price per kilo and sheer volume. The EU maintains hefty import duties to protect its agricultural interests from competition, creating a lucrative opportunity for smugglers, who can falsify the product's nation of origin or misdeclare it as another commodity to get it into the European market. 

The Dominican Republic uses a quota and public auction system to limit the official quantity of garlic imports. However, like many other categories of goods, garlic is often smuggled across the Haiti-Dominican Republic land border, disguised as other goods or stowed in private vehicles. Sea routes are also used, with small boats providing covert transport. (According to American think tank CSIS, the net flow of illicitly-traded goods is overwhelmingly westward from the DR into Haiti, but some commodities - like garlic - head in the other direction.)

Vigilant also engaged in routine Coast Guard activities during her patrol. Her crew strengthened international and domestic partnerships, working with the Jamaican Defense Force, the Royal Bahamian Defense Force, the Dominican Navy, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Navy. The Vigilant also brought 50 Haitian migrants back to their home country after they were intercepted by another cutter, and she participated in a man-overboard search after a sailor reportedly went over the side of his sailing vessel.