Africa’s main drug smuggling seaports
For as long as I can remember, African countries have been calling for stronger regional cooperation to tackle drug trafficking through the continent’s seaports amid growing threats of international drug trafficking.Africa, like any other continent in the world, has experienced an increase in illicit drug trafficking through sea routes. African countries have to strengthen their joint efforts to tackle the issue.There is urgent need at strengthening efforts to curb drug trafficking in the region and countries should also aim at strengthening regional cooperation to stop drug trafficking in the region and manifest Africa’s strong commitment to fighting drugs.Authorities have for many years reiterated that drug smuggling in the region, especially in West Africa, had become an “emergency” that requires transnational collaboration between relevant officials in order to fight drug networks. In 2015 alone, drugs worth more than $300 million were seized from shipping containers even though customs inspected only a tiny fraction of over 10 million containers that arrive in African ports each year.A study by drug market researchers shows the seizures could be just the tip of an iceberg centred around drug trafficking networks able to avoid detection because of limited searches and corruption in the importation processes.African airports security is under intense pressure, although figures show that far more illicit drugs come to Africa by ship than by air cargo or hidden on passengers or air crew. The African agencies admits they do not know how many illegal drugs are imported but that isn’t a surprise to your blogger as it is well known in public how intelligence and other security organs are involved in drug business across Africa. Therefore, only those who don’t know about corruption in Africa will be shocked that customs officials in the continent are unable to provide an estimate of the percentage of drug importations that are detected.However, the drugs detected on the docks far outweigh airport seizures according to records available. In a research conducted in Ports of Mombasa in Kenya and Durban in South Africa, container X-ray facilities detected over 1000 kilograms of heroin, 4,000 kilograms of ecstasy, 1,324 kilograms of crystal methylamphetamine, 845 kilograms of amphetamine-type stimulants in 2014 – 2015.
These busts do not include seizures by police in those countries. According to a researcher based in Kenya, airports are really for the small and desperate drug traffickers from West Africa but the bigger and better organised criminals used containers to ship their products. The actual amount of illegal drugs arriving at Kenya ports is not known because, until recently, customs never X-rayed containers. The researcher also told your blogger that X-rays do not always reveal drugs hidden in white goods especially in Mombasa and Durban ports. For example, he knows of a case where instead of having fibreglass insulation in cooking stove, there was cocaine insulation which even recently manufactured X-ray cannot pick that up.Several sources told your blogger that 40 per cent of people working in the African maritime industry are well known to have criminal records with taking bribes being order of the day.It is also known very well how such workers are involved in cases where containers had been stolen from the docks despite the security with recent cases being reported in Mombasa Kenya.”It’s not possible to do something like that without there being some sort of network and that’s the concern we have Contador Harrison,” one of the sources said. Despite more container inspections and better intelligence, gaps remain in port security across Africa and concerns exist about foreign shipping crews and the lack of scrutiny of empty containers. A critical report has found that not one of the X-ray examination facilities in Sub Saharan Africa has met its target for the number of containers examined in 2015.It found that customs was not physically unpacking all high-risk containers, as it was supposed to do.There are also concerns about the ability of foreign shipping crews to enter African countries without adequate checks. A separate study has warned that the system of checking foreign crew relies on the crew lists being accurate. If fake names did not trigger an alert when checked, seafarers were automatically granted a special purpose visa. Additionally, once the initial inspection of the ship is complete, crew are free to go ashore whenever they like. If they do not return, the system relies upon the ship’s master to alert the authorities to the missing crew.Experience around other parts of the world shows that so called empty containers can be used to smuggle narcotics and even people and therefore African Union member states must step up collaboration to take the initiative in intercepting drugs smuggled through international seaports in Southern Africa, East Africa and West Africa as well as ports in North Africa.