Pieces of evidence of smuggling

Fostering law enforcement/trade cooperation

Published: 11 January 2024

On 9 January, BIMCO, INTERPORTPOLICE, INTERMANAGER, the World Shipping Council and Northeast Maritime Institute held a conference in Houston to discuss the rise in drug smuggling using ships and the abuse of seafarers. 

Overall, the conference was an important step in addressing the growing issue of drug smuggling in the maritime industry. Entitled “Fostering law enforcement/trade cooperation” the conference had over 20 panellists from shipowners, P&I Clubs, law enforcement agencies, INTERPOL, and the UN Office on Drugs & Crime. 

The conference revealed that cocaine production is at an all-time high, with more than 300 metric tonnes of cocaine seized from ships in 2023. This poses a significant challenge to shipowners and seafarers, as crime networks become more organised and violent. 

The panellists identified several key issues, including the need for governments to share information about smugglers' tactics and high-risk areas. They also highlighted the unfair treatment of seafarers who discover drugs on board their ships, and the need to update the existing IMO guidance. 

The conference also included discussions on the role of the private sector in law enforcement, the need for better cooperation between governments and the industry, and the impact of drug smuggling on recruitment. The panellists concluded that the industry has a responsibility to make seafaring attractive and safe. 

In addition to the conference, there were various sessions discussing different aspects of the issue. This included discussions on how the industry can learn from other sectors, the importance of information sharing, and the potential use of technology in tackling drug smuggling. The sessions also highlighted the need for flexible regulations, better training for seafarers, and the protection of seafarers from undue consequences. 

The co-organisers will now submit a proposal to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to review and update the existing guidance. The goal is to reduce drug smuggling on ships and protect seafarers, shipowners, and societies. 

The issue will be presented and discussed at the upcoming meeting of the IMO’s Facilitation Committee on 8-12 April 2024. It is hoped that the discussion will result in the issue being formally put on the IMO’s agenda with the ambition of addressing the implications to seafarers and shipping of the drug smuggling problem. 

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Jakob Paaske Larsen


Jakob Paaske Larsen

Head of Maritime Safety & Security

Copenhagen, Denmark