TT Talk - Focus on smuggling


This item looks at two of the nastiest undersides of modern smuggling, people and drugs, which  potentially impact on anyone involved in international transport. For reasons of space, we concentrate on the United Kingdom; we will look at the international position in a future edition.

Drugs, if they are not carried or swallowed by ‘mules’, are commonly smuggled in freight containers. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) traditionally publishes a report of the most unusual drug smuggling attempts during the past year. For example, last year 80 kilograms of heroin was found hidden inside the reefer motor of an HGV. The previous year, cannabis was hidden in chrysanthemums (and other flowers) and cannabis valued £1 million was hidden among pallets of mayonnaise. This lucrative illegal trade births creativity – such as the cocaine that was shaped and coloured to look like Pringles in a Pringles can. The UK remains a favourite destination for immigrants because of its (perceived) employment opportunities, including the black economy, state benefits, established ethnic communities and benign asylum laws.

The Channel ports are the most common point for illegal entry. For example, last year a 16 year old Vietnamese girl was found wedged behind a car dashboard, and a car engine was rearranged to make room for someone under the bonnet. In a classic case, bus seats were removed and the floor raised to allow 27 Chinese immigrants to hide underneath it. The authorities became suspicious when they saw passengers’ heads rubbing against the parcel shelf.

The vigilance of officials is supplemented by technology. There is equipment available which will detect differences in mass, movement and exhaled CO2. And no one underestimates the effectiveness of sniffer dogs. Intelligence is also vital. There are UK agents and liaison officers in continental Europe, in the origin countries and along the known transit routes. This is combined with “educational” measures, emphasising the disadvantages of attempting to become an illegal immigrant. This approach has the clear advantage of preventing the immigrants from reaching the UK and taking advantage of the asylum system.

Logistics operators, and/or their employees, can become involved in drug or people trafficking voluntarily or involuntarily. Liability may follow depending on whether or not they knew, or reasonably should have known, that their vehicles or premises were being used.

In 2000 the UK authorities introduced a “civil penalties” scheme, which fines truck drivers and operators of £2,000 for each illegal immigrant concealed on their truck; a number of fines were imposed. Liability can now be avoided by following an “accreditation scheme” of precautionary measures. Although UKBA appear to have enforced civil penalties less enthusiastically in recent years, there are signs that this may change.

The TT Club published a Stop Loss Sheet (#10) which specifies recommended precautions and can be ownloaded from the Club’s website. The central point is that if the driver has any suspicion that his vehicle has been tampered with, he should contact the authorities immediately. The driver should be wary of intervening personally, since powerful and ruthless criminal gangs are involved in both drugs and people smuggling, and, equally, people being smuggled may be desperate and unpredictable. The legal consequences are likely to be less severe if operators provide full, timely information.

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