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New International Maritime Organisation Guidelines to Combat Wildlife Smuggling

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted new ‘Guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of the Smuggling of Wildlife on Ships Engaged in International Maritime Traffic’ to combat wildlife smuggling. It’s an important step for the global shipping industry to focus on bringing down the illegal networks exploiting maritime supply chains to traffic wildlife.
According to the The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), less than 2% of the 800 million 20ft TEUs containers can be efficiently inspected. It is estimated that by volume, 72–90% of wildlife products are trafficked by sea – and Hong Kong is home to world’s 8th largest container port. This makes combatting illegal wildlife trade (IWT) in the maritime sector a challenge. The endorsement by the United Nations’ specialised agency sends a strong message on the growing international engagement against the IWT and its impacts on global biodiversity, directly threatening the survival of many species in the wild. Being an associate member of the IMO since 1967, Hong Kong plays a vital role in global shipping network and fighting IWT.

The Guidelines were formally submitted to FAL46 of the IMO by Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Kenya, Tanzania, the Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the International Organisation of Airports and Seaports Police (INTERPORTPOLICE). This is the first time the IMO has taken a bold step to combat IWT exploiting the maritime shipping industry. The Guidelines provide extensive recommendations for both government agencies and the private sector to increase due diligence over this criminal activity.
“These new UN guidelines comes in perfect timing with the amendment of Hong Kong’s Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance (OSCO) in 2021 which includes IWT offences”, said Dr Eric Wikramanayake, Director of Wildlife and Wetlands, WWF-Hong Kong “this legislative amendment confers the power of investigation and enforcement on local enforcement authorities, allowing them to inspect the financial flow associated with this illegal trade of individuals and companies, and confiscate their proceeds of crime. With these new IMO guidelines, government authorities and companies can implement greater safeguarding measures to protect their employees, business, and nature, critical to protecting the integrity of maritime supply chains from operational, economic, security, and zoonotic health risks.” he added.
Containerised shipping is a vital part of the global economy, but traffickers misuse these legitimate transport services and supply chains to move poached wildlife, timber and other contraband internationally. Maritime transport is the preferred method to smuggle large, non-perishable illegal wildlife products such as ivory, pangolin scales and timber. Between 2010 and 2020, Hong Kong Customs seized more than HK$1 billion black market value in trafficked wildlife products, including nearly 34 tonnes of ivory.
The new IMO Guidelines highlight measures and procedures already available to the private sector and government agencies to combat wildlife trafficking within the industry. The document provides information on the nature and context of maritime smuggling of wildlife. It includes measures to prevent, detect and report wildlife trafficking within the maritime sector, with an emphasis on due diligence, responsibility-sharing and cooperation between all stakeholders along the supply chains.
Wellington Koo, Chairman of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA) said, “Unfortunately, due to the large volume of sea traffic, shipping is one of the main trafficking conduits used by wildlife criminal syndicates. We must not tolerate this. The Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA) urges all stakeholders operating at the various stages of the maritime supply chains, from customs officers and port authorities to shipping lines and freight forwarders, to take all necessary measures to stop this illegal trade.”
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