The UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme

The sheer volume of international maritime container traffic, with approximately 750 million containers shipped annually in the trade supply chain, coupled with the sophisticated and often ingenious concealment methods and complex routings adopted by illicit drug traffickers and other smugglers, invariably makes successful interdiction difficult. Seaports are notoriously challenging - and at times dangerous - places to work. Law enforcement structures are often hampered by a lack of resources, inter-agency mistrust, complex port processes and systems, and other factors which are purposefully exploited by criminal organizations. This situation poses a very real and serious threat to the security of the international trade supply chain, which is so important to sustainable development.

In response to this threat, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the WCO launched the Container Control Programme (CCP) to assist governments in establishing effective container selections and controls to prevent drug trafficking and other illicit cross-border activities. At the heart of this innovative approach is the creation of inter-agency Port Control Units (PCUs), consisting of risk analysts and physical inspection teams from different law enforcement agencies (e.g. Customs, Police and other law enforcement agencies), who are trained and equipped within the framework of the CCP to work together towards systematically targeting high-risk containers for professional law enforcement scrutiny, using risk analysis and other proactive techniques with minimum disruption to the free flow of legitimate trade.

Based on the success in establishing operational units in seaports, the CCP expanded its scope into the air cargo segment and to selected land border crossings. Its staged approach in developing the new Air Cargo Control Units (ACCUs) and the units at land borders remains unchanged as it has proved to be functional, feasible and sustainable.

Adequate accommodation and access to relevant shipping information, as well as management support, are just some of the key motivating factors that typically need to be addressed.

Unlike various other programmes and projects, the CCP benefits from generous donor support which enables the UNODC and WCO to provide continued/long-term training and mentoring support to the specialized units which have been set up. A staged approach to the training of the officers concerned, ranging from basic risk profiling skills to advanced levels (focusing, for instance, on strategic goods control, illicit trade in timber, and precursor chemicals), seeks to establish qualified and sustainable structures for developing and processing intelligence for targeting purposes.

Another important aspect is the exchange of information and intelligence among the PCUs and ACCUs established worldwide, using a secure communication system. A reliable network of like-minded law enforcement entities is a prerequisite for success in an environment of globalized trade and globalized crime. Numerous significant seizures of drugs and other prohibited materials demonstrate the importance and efficiency of this multilateral cooperation among the PCUs.

In coordinating the activities of the CCP, the UNODC and WCO are proud to be able to support the international law enforcement community in the fight against global trafficking in illicit goods, and thus contribute to the facilitation of legitimate trade.


WCO Programme Coordinator:

Mr. Gilles Thomas, World Customs Organization, Brussels / Belgium
Tel: +32 2 2099544

UNODC Programme Coordinator:

Mr. Ketil Ottersen, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna/Austria
Tel: +43 1 260605528