98 tonnes of cocaine seized in WCO-UNODC Operation TIN CAN Tackling organized crime and insider threats exploiting the supply chain

03 April 2023

A major joint operation involving customs, police, and other agencies from across the world has cracked down on organized crime and insider threats exploiting the container supply chain.

Under Operation TIN CAN, which ran from 14 November – 9 December 2022, 58 countries cooperated to carry out 43 arrests and 158 drug seizures, including the seizure of 98,734 kilograms of cocaine and 314 kilograms of cannabis herbals.

Increasingly, organized crime groups have been turning to the “rip-on/rip-off concealment method” in shipping containers to move drugs across the globe. This technique involves the exploitation of a legitimate shipment to smuggle illicit goods. As containerized cargo moves from the country of origin or the transshipment port to the country of destination, trusted insiders in the supply chain are wittingly (often through threats to their own or their family’s safety) or unwittingly exploited by criminal organized groups who take advantage of their situations to tamper with legal shipments.

The key to the success of this method depends on both access to and insider knowledge about the location of a specific container – one that is often stored amongst thousands of other containers. It also relies upon coordination between insiders at both ends of the transport supply chain.

Operation TIN CAN was organized by the World Customs Organization (WCO), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the Australian Border Force in partnership with members of the World Shipping Council.

A total of 58 countries and their Enforcement Agencies were involved, with support provided by the major shipping lines affected by this dangerous phenomenon. The operation’s success was built upon collaboration with the shipping industry and the combination of traditional law enforcement methods with new innovative data visualization tools, tracking, and inspection technologies in which carriers and law enforcement have invested.

Importantly, this operation confirmed that the rip on/rip off (or blind hook) concealment methodology is the preferred modus operandi of criminals when moving illegal drugs around the world. Indeed, this modus operandi was observed in 107 reported container cases during the operation, which resulted in seizures of 62,834 kilograms of cocaine. Other concealment techniques were used for the remaining seizure amounts.

This operation had tangible results: beyond the significant seizures made, customs and law enforcement authorities have now updated their cargo selection criteria and are targeting the new smuggling trends that were observed. This first-of-its-kind operation has strengthened trust and collaboration between industry and government. WCO and UNODC will further enhance the cooperation and information exchange between Member States, the ocean shipping industry and private sector in other transport areas facing similar security threats.

Further Information

Additional support for Operation TIN CAN was provided by Belgium Customs, German Customs, The Netherlands Customs, United Kingdom Border Force and United States of America Customs and Border Protection.

The UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme (CCP) is a key initiative in the fight against illicit trade in containerized cargo and was a key factor in the preparation of Operation TIN CAN.

It was jointly launched by the WCO and UNODC to support Governments in establishing sustainable enforcement inter-agency structures in selected seaports to minimize the risk of maritime containers being exploited for trafficking of various illicit goods, such as drugs, precursor chemicals (for drugs and weapons), firearms, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear material, and other goods linked to organized crime. The CCP is to date operational in 71 countries and has initiated activities in 9 more. Since its inception, the CCP has established 133 Port and Airport Control Units, leading to significantly increased detections and confiscation of drugs and other illicit goods. In 2022, CCP Port Control Units seized 275 tons of cocaine and 864 tons of chemical precursors.