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CBP Warns of Drug Smugglers Targeting Cargo at Ecuador Port

Friday, February 21, 2014
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued an alert to Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism participants warning them of an “alarming” increase over the past two years in the number and size of drug trafficking operations targeting legitimate cargo at the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador, that country’s main seaport. CBP states that as part of a larger shift in trafficking away from the traditional drug-producing countries of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, drug trafficking organizations are taking advantage of Ecuador’s vulnerable coasts, which the country does not have the resources to patrol effectively. The majority of these drug-laden container shipments are bound for Europe, CBP notes, but compromised shipments headed to the U.S. have also been reported.

According to the alert, the most common method used by drug traffickers at the port of Guayaquil (and one that appears to be increasing) is the “rip-off” or gancho ciego (“blind hook” in Spanish), in which cargo thieves remove the seal from a cargo container, place drugs in the shipment, and reseal the container with a fake seal. This operation takes place without the consent or knowledge of the consignee or exporter. Once the container arrives at the port of debarkation or at the foreign de-consolidation center, an accomplice retrieves  the narcotics.

CBP states that corruption is the primary contributor to this problem despite the port’s involvement in the United Nations’ Container Control Program, a project designed to boost container inspection and root out corruption. For example, customs officers at the port have been implicated for their involvement in drug smuggling schemes. However, the alert adds, exporting companies at the port are also partly to blame, as fewer than 10% have undertaken basic security measures to protect their shipments.

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