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Operation Demeter yields tons of illegal shipments of hazardous waste

08 julio 2009

Brussels, 8 July 2009

Operation Demeter yields tons of illegal shipments of hazardous waste

A joint global Customs initiative across Europe, the Asia/Pacific region and Africa netted more than 30000 tons and 1,500 pieces of illegal hazardous waste in 57 seizures, ranging from household waste and scrap metal to discarded electronic goods and used vehicle parts.

Between March and May 2009, Customs administrations from 64 countries launched Operation Demeter targeting the illicit cross-border shipment of hazardous and other waste en route from Europe to countries in the Asia/Pacific region and Africa. This fifty-day operation which was coordinated by the WCO Secretariat was aimed at increasing information exchange among Customs administrations; a vital element in tackling environmental crime at the border.

Customs officials at over 300 seaports and other selected points intensified their risk profiling and physical controls to identify high risk shipments, and notified each other of any suspicious shipments across the continents. They were supported by their national environmental agencies, the Secretariat of the Basel Convention, the EU Network for Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL), and the seven WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILO) located in the participating regions. Officers in European exporting countries also followed up investigations of illegal exporters based on feedback from countries in Africa and the Asia/Pacific. CENcomm, the WCO’s secure communication tool, was used by these officials to exchange over 500 intelligence messages during the operation.

The majority of seizures took place in European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy before the waste could be shipped. Iron scrap destined for Asia topped the list in terms of quantities seized. Africa remained the ‘destination of choice’ for household waste such as used refrigerators containing CFCs and old television screens, with over 1100 of the approximately 1500 pieces seized destined for countries on the continent. On 9 June 2009 Customs officers at a container terminal in Lagos, Nigeria opened a container after it had been under surveillance for exactly one month based on intelligence provided by their Customs counterparts in Europe. The container was fully loaded with waste television sets but remained unclaimed!

WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, said, “ The international Customs community and its partners cannot allow the illicit trade in environmentally sensitive goods to continue unabated when it has such devastating affects on the health and safety of people around the globe”. He added, “ Rising international concerns about the fragility of the environment spurs us on to strengthen Customs border controls through focused capacity building initiatives and enhanced exchange of information as this will ensure that the illegal activities of syndicates involved in this trade are dealt a massive blow”. Mr. Mikuriya further added, “ Although most of the hazardous waste can be used as secondary raw material, it can still do detrimental damage to the environment if not recycled in an environment-friendly manner which is often the case in developing countries lacking proper facilities, a fact which criminals use to their advantage”. In conclusion the Secretary General said, “ The success of Operation Demeter can be attributed to our desire to protect the environment for future generations, the strong political will and commitment of WCO Member Customs administrations, and excellent cooperation with our partners at the national, regional and international level; in fact the WCO is now even more determined to bolster the partnership further as coordination, cooperation and communication are the enemies of those who profit from this trade”.

Under the Basel Convention which regulates the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal, parties have the right to prohibit the import of waste. Parties are also prohibited from exporting waste without pre-consent from importing countries. Where this occurs without consent it is regarded as illegal trafficking and exporting countries are obligated to take back the waste or dispose of it properly in accordance with the terms of the Basel Convention.

Ms. Katharina Kummer Peiry, Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention, said, “ Operation Demeter has confirmed the critical role of Customs authorities, the crucial importance of effective information sharing systems and the necessity for international cooperation to combat the illegal traffic of hazardous wastes. I note that the vast majority of seizures took place in European countries before the export actually took place, a positive signal as it means earlier intervention in the illegal traffic waste chain”. She added, “ The outcomes of the Operation also provide very useful information on the types of waste streams that are the object of illegal traffic as well as on the countries of destination of these wastes”. In conclusion Ms. Peiry said, “ The Secretariat of the Basel Convention is grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with the World Customs Organization in this Operation and looks forward to continued cooperation”.

The WCO will continue to cooperate closely with its partners in the Green Customs initiative as the Organization remains of the firm belief that environment crime can only be effectively combated through concerted action on all fronts. These actions include even more capacity building for Customs officials working on the frontline, the development of enhanced tools to support these officials and global Customs operations aimed at squeezing the life-blood out of this illegal trade.