98 tonnes of cocaine seized in Operation TIN CAN

A major joint operation organised by the Australian Border Force, World Customs Organization (WCO) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has cracked down on insider threats in the maritime supply chain.

Operation TIN CAN involved customs, police, and other law enforcement agencies from across the world and led to 43 arrests and more than 100 drug seizures, including 98,734 kilograms of cocaine and 314 kilograms of cannabis.

A total of 58 countries were involved, with support provided by the major shipping lines affected by international drug trafficking.

The ABF worked alongside officers from German Customs, United Kingdom Border Force, US Customs and Border Protection and the Dutch Customs Administration to deliver a series of coordinated strikes on organised crime.

The operation, which ran in November and December last year, saw cooperation with the shipping industry and a combination of traditional law enforcement methods and new innovative data visualisation tools, tracking, and inspection technologies.

ABF officers deployed to Colombia and Panama as part of the Operation worked alongside Colombian authorities during the seizure of around 100 kilograms of cocaine from inside a shipping container. Each block of cocaine was individually wrapped into one kilogram packages and hidden within the container’s structure. A total of 815 kilograms of cocaine was also seized by Costa Rica’s Drug Control Police from a truck intending to enter the container terminal. A further 25 kilograms of cocaine was located by police in Ecuador concealed in a container’s internal refrigeration and ventilation systems.

Increasingly, organised crime syndicates have been turning to the “rip-on/rip-off” concealment method which involves the exploitation of shipping containers to traffic illicit drugs around the world. As cargo moves from the country of origin to the country of destination, insiders at each port (such as corrupt port workers) tamper with legal shipments.

Trusted insiders working in the maritime supply chain exploit their positions to support organised crime syndicates to traffic illegal drugs. The key to their success depends on access to the location of a specific container; insider knowledge of the port environment; and, the ability to coordinate insider threats at both ends of the transport supply chain.

ABF Commander Bjorn Roberts, of Operation JARDENA, said the contamination of container cargo has become the most frequently used concealment method for organised crime groups to move cocaine and other illicit drugs around the world.

“TIN CAN was a hugely successful operation and showcased how law enforcement agencies across the world can work together – and work with industry – to combat the threat of organised crime,” Commander Roberts said.

“Almost 100 tonnes of cocaine was detected and it is highly likely some of that would have been destined for Australia, had it not been seized.”

“This method of drug trafficking is not possible without the active involvement of trusted insiders in the maritime supply chain.”

“The ABF is committed to strengthening our supply chains to combat criminal infiltration and deliver a robust network that supports the rapid movement of legitimate trade.”

“The threat of the involvement of insiders is a major concern for law enforcement agencies around the world.”

“The Australian border is one of our most critical national assets. The ABF, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to make the border a hostile environment for criminals trying to import illicit drugs.”​

Law enforcement agencies have now updated their cargo selection criteria and are targeting new trafficking trends that were observed during the operation.