When Jan Janse, the Chief of the Seaport division of Rotterdam police was interviewed recently he described the methods used by traffickers to smuggle drugs into Europe using container ships.

He explained that in addition to narcotics being hidden with cargo inside containers, drug traffickers were also deploying another technique known as "drop off" where  consignments were literally dropped off by corrupt crew members into EU waters at a predetermined location, collected later by accomplices in smaller vessels and brought to shore. Both techniques, rely upon insider assistance and hence corruption in shipping and port operations companies is a major concern for enforcement authorities.

Another technique described in the interview involves the leaking of container ownership codes which help traffickers avoid checks by Customs officials. According to Police, this has happened 220 times at Rotterdam over the past 30 months.

Being Europe's biggest and busiest port, the fact that Janse was prepared to openly point to corruption within Rotterdam's shippers and operators should serve as an alarm call for companies across the sector to revisit their anti-bribery and corruption controls and reinforce employee codes of conduct.

This could include measures such as

  • Continual reinforcement of anti-bribery and corruption policies and procedure requirements through training and awareness initiatives, 
  • Clear guidance to ship captains and management on what to do when asked for facilitation payments,
  • Refresher training on confidential whistleblowing hotlines, including reminders on how and when to make a report,
  • Implementation of support mechanisms  and guidance for staff who are subject to corrupt approaches,
  • Enhanced monitoring and testing of internal controls and staff compliance,
  • Robust due diligence on third party service providers and suppliers, and
  • A Board led focus on the importance of transparency and ethics amongst all employees.

These measures on their own will not solve the problem but they are a good starting point for any company who wants to reduce their exposure to corruption risk and can help develop a corporate environment where corrupt behaviours are not tolerated.

However globally and at Government level, further work is required as facilitation payments remain a major issue across the sector. The sheer number of potential time-sensitive interactions with port operators, Government officials including Customs, Immigration and Inspection-based agencies (such as safety, environmental and industrial) creates opportunities for corruption to thrive.

This shouldn't however prevent individual companies doing all they can to control corruption within their own organisations, reduce their exposure to enforcement action and make the job of drug traffickers and other criminals more difficult.

If you would like some help to revisit and improve your anti-bribery and corruption controls or check if they are working effectively, please contact Neal Ysart, Lead Regulatory & Investigations Advisor  at neal.ysart@clydeco.com   /  Tel: +971 55 138 9250 or your usual Clyde & Co point of contact.