Monday, 15 August 2016

Large ivory seizures in Singapore make it a smuggling hub of 'primary concern'

In the last three years, significant amounts of illegal ivory have been picked up in the Singapore – conservationists worry that new smuggling routes are opening up

Friday 12 August 201607.00 BSTLast modified on Friday 12 August 201617.32 BST
Large-scale seizures of ivory in Singapore over the last three years make the south-east Asian city-state one of the world’s premier ivory smuggling hubs for organised crime, say conservation watchdogs. 

Data from seizures, collected by the UN’s wildlife trade monitor Traffic and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and shared with the Guardian, reveals how the gangsters operate. Shipping containers carrying thousands of tusks are labelled as carrying anything from tea to waste paper or avocados. They leave Africa from a few ports well-known for high levels of corruption.

Customs officials in China and Hong Kong – where most ivory ends up – target containers which have come from those ports. In order to get around this, according to EIA director of campaigns Julian Newman and traffic wildlife trade expert Tom Milliken, ivory shipments are being dropped off in transit ports, such as Singapore or Port Klang in Malaysia, where they can sit for months before being loaded on to a new vessel with paperwork listing a new port of origin.

“You’d probably get a red flag if you were shipping dried fish from Africa to Hong Kong,” said Newman. “But if it came from Malaysia then it wouldn’t. There’s lots of loopholes that people are able to exploit to try and get their stuff through customs control.”

Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia are the transit countries traditionally favoured by the gangs. Between 2010 and today, the EIA recorded these countries seizing a total of 32, 18 and 14 tonnes of ivory respectively.

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