Drug trafficking via cargo containers a major challenge

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Law enforcement agencies are trying to curb the emerging trend of criminal syndicates using this mode for smuggling

Law enforcement agencies are trying to curb the emerging trend of criminal syndicates using this mode for smuggling

The emerging trend of international criminal syndicates to use containerized trade networks for drug trafficking has posed a major challenge to law enforcement agencies in the region. Over the past year, around 3,500 kg of drugs, mostly heroin, have been seized from cargo containers in the country.

The latest case that raised the alarm was reported a few days ago when Sri Lankan customs seized over 300kg of cocaine in four containers bound for an Indian port. Contraband was smuggled under the guise of scrap metal. The ship had reached the port of Colombo from Panama via Belgium and Dubai.

“Common Strategy”

“It is likely that the smuggling was destined for another destination because cocaine use is not that high in India. Drug traffickers make false declarations in the bill of lading so as not to arouse suspicion. It is a common ploy. However, the case reveals how drugs enter containerized trade, making the job of law enforcement more difficult,” a customs official said.

In a similar case in April 2021, the Directorate of Tax Intelligence (DRI) seized 300 kg of cocaine from a container that landed at Tuticorin port in Tamil Nadu. This container also came from Panama and had transited through Antwerp and Colombo. It turned out that the company listed on paper as the importer was unaware. A Conduit was arrested in Chennai for his role.

The largest ever seizure of around 3,000 kg of heroin was made by the DRI from two containers at Mundra port in Gujarat last September. Declared as a shipment of semi-processed talc imported by Vijayawada-based Aashi Trading Company from Hasan Hussain Limited in Kandahar, Afghanistan, it was shipped from the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran.

NIA probe

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) then took over the investigation and filed an indictment against 16 people, including 11 Afghan nationals, four Indians and an Iranian facilitator. Ten defendants have been arrested so far. The agency also discovered that defendants Hussain and Hassan from the export company had links to terrorist groups banned in Pakistan.

In October last year, the DRI seized over 25 kg of heroin in one container and in July 2021 around 300 kg of heroin in some containers, both at Nhava Sheva port in Navi Mumbai. The containers in the second case came from the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran, declared as talc.

At the same port, in August 2020, the DRI seized 191 kg of heroin and made several arrests. This consignment — declared as an Ayurvedic product, mulethi (liquorice) and concealed in plastic pipes painted to look like bamboo – had been sent via Chabahar to Iran. He had been booked under a fictitious name, presented as a resident of Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Following several large seizures, the agency recently detected significantly lower quantities of drugs concealed in containers carrying legal goods. A few weeks ago, the DRI seized approximately 35 kg of heroin (declared as rock salt) at the Tughlaqabad Inland Container Depot in Delhi. At least two people have been arrested in Goa in this case. An additional 2.50 kg were found in imported juice bottles.

Call for better coordination

“The situation has required more effective coordination between various agencies in India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to maintain and share shipment data in real time. Effective collaboration with shipping lines and liner agents, which facilitate containerized trade, is equally important. There is also a need to properly verify the credentials of Import and Export Code (IEC) holders as unscrupulous elements use their services to smuggle illegal items like drugs,” said said the manager.

Another official said, “Real-time shipment data is key to developing an AI-based algorithm to zero in on suspicious shipments, which will be a force multiplier for law enforcement agencies. law. Although scanners are of little use in detecting drugs, they should be installed at all ports to control contraband.

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