Intelligence and criminal blacklists are vital to tackling illegal wildlife trade on the high seas

Identifying illegal wildlife shipments at sea is like looking for a needle in hundreds of haystacks.

As you read this, millions of containers are being shipped all over the world and just a few of those will have illegal cargo on board, but the UN estimates that only about 1-2 per cent of all containers are ever checked.

EIA believes that the effective enforcement of laws against trafficking – which starts with finding these illegal containers – requires intelligence, effectively identifying the haystacks to search.

Ivory, pangolin scales and timber seized in Nigeria

Our campaigners played a seminal role in the development earlier this year of a set of guidelines at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which focus on the prevention of wildlife trafficking.

Starting tomorrow (6 December), the Government of Thailand is hosting a meeting of private, public and NGO partners, all working to eliminate the scourge that is wildlife trafficking by sea containers via the sharing of their experience and understanding of these guidelines.

EIA Senior Forests & Wildlife Campaigner James Toone is in Bangkok for the event and said: “We are attending the Thai-led conference this week because the voice of civil society organisations is a valuable and important part of how the guidelines can be developed and then effectively implemented. It’s no use having the them if they aren’t used.

“We also have a unique insight into the precise nature of wildlife and timber trafficking that we want to share. Currently, private companies are being used to move illicit wildlife and timber products.

“EIA’s research and investigations allow us to understand some of what is being moved, at what scale and along which routes.”

Seizure of pangolin scales in Malaysia, 2020

EIA wants the IMO to ensure that the guidelines are properly implemented, which means that they need to be monitored. The guidelines are currently voluntary – countries don’t have to implement them – and we believe the IMO should move to a mandatory set of rules, meaning the public and private sectors could work together under a clear and uniform framework.

We will also be calling for private companies to work much more closely with law enforcement agencies than is often the case at present – we want to see widely shared ‘blacklists’ of known traffickers and companies engaged in illegal activities.

We welcome the efforts of the Kenyan Government, which sponsored the guidelines and brought them to fruition at the IMO, the Thai Government, which is helping to maintain international energies on the guidelines, and fellow civil society organisations, in particular WWF and TRAFFIC.

We also welcome continued efforts by the World Shipping Council on behalf of its members to ensure that the private sector plays its part, as well as leadership by those transport companies which are signed up to the Buckingham Palace Declaration and therefore committed to implement the guidelines.

EIA will remain engaged on this important agenda – making the seas less open to those who pillage the world’s forests and wildlife.