The Port of Santos has been described as a lynchpin in the cocaine trade © Alfonso Chen via Getty Images
The Port of Santos has been described as a lynchpin in the cocaine trade © Alfonso Chen via Getty Images

MSC halts container operations amid drug smuggling fears

26 January 2022

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has stopped filling containers in Brazil amid fears drug cartels using them to smuggle contraband.

MSC sent a notice to clients saying criminals had been intercepting its containers to ship drugs out of the country and as a result it had stopped stuffing and pre-stacking of road, rail, and barge shipments bound for export across Brazil, according to MarineMonks.

A spokesperson for MSC told Supply Management: “This only concerns some intermodal operations including stuffing of containers in Brazil. Please note that MSC's shipping line continues to call in South America and Europe.”

This only concerns some intermodal operations including stuffing of containers in Brazil. Please note that MSC’s shipping line continues to call in South America and in Europe.

The Swiss-Italian shipping giant recently purchased Brazil’s regional container shipping operator Log-In Logistica as part of attempts to build inroads into the country, primarily in the Port of Santos.

InSight Crime, a platform which covers organised crime in Latin America, has described the Port of Santos as a ‘crucial lynchpin’ for the international cocaine trade.

MSC previously experienced drugs-based difficulties in June 2019, when over $1bn of cocaine was found hidden in seven shipping containers on the MSC Gayane. Of the ship’s 20-man crew, just over a third were implicated in the drug ring.

Authorities in the US temporarily suspended MSC’s Customs Trade Partnership certification over the incident.

Last year a report by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said 90% of all cocaine, 45% of all cannabis, and 30% of all amphetamine-type stimulants seized globally between 2017-20 were trafficked by sea.

Guy Platten, secretary general at ICS, said: “Traffickers use shipping as a vector for their illicit cargoes as ships present opportunities for high volume movements from producing to consuming countries. Drug traffickers exploit society’s need to move goods and people across frontiers, and shipping is a key mode in that transport chain.”

MSC recently overtook Maersk to become the largest shipping company in the world.

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