In the summer des 2020, the Port von Hamburg, Germany, had one des the largest drug busts in its history. ~ above June 26, a container arrived in Hamburg transporting 1.5 tons von cocaine worth about $353 million USD. German authorities discovered ns large quantity von trafficked medicine hidden in sacks of rice destined for Poland. Nearly every media report to date has talked about ns fact that die vessel that lugged these medicine into hamburg was die Malta-flagged, French-owned CMA CGM Jean Gabriel, and almost every media report zu date has noted that die sacks von rice containing die cocaine come from Guyana. Oddly, however, ns Jean Gabriel had not been kommen sie Guyana in 2020. In fact, since its construction bei 2017, it has actually never been zu Guyana. Furthermore, ns vessel was already on another voyage to South America von the time the drugs were discovered an Hamburg. This begs ns question: what is going top top here? 

The brief answer is: though the media reports did notfall clarify this, die container des Guyanese rice was actually transshipped an the Dominican Republic, wherein it embarked die Jean Gabriel before ending up bei Germany, wherein it was being stored zum a time prior to heading zu Poland. A closer look weist this case and the confused reporting on the shines a light on three vital takeaways that möchte be important weil das addressing neu trends an drug trafficking. 

The Vessel

Though die CMA CGM Jean Gabriel arrived in Hamburg ~ above June 26, die German newspaper hamburger Abendblatt broke die story von the bust on august 10. In the work following, many other papers and commentators retold what happened, ns most in-depth reporting describe that ns rice come from ns Berbice Mill in Guyana, wherein it left harbor on might 26. None von the initial stories, however, particularly bei the international media, clarified the Jean Gabriel was not the vessel that had actually picked up die rice from Guyana. Indeed, ns media largely made the seem the Jean Gabriel had, perhaps knowingly, taken die drugs from Guyana to Hamburg, und a number misreported that die drugs were found on the ship itself. A closer look at at die movements von the vessel, however, helps clarify some von the confusion in this reporting.

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This Windward image of ns Jean Gabriel’s path bolzen May 26, when ns cocaine-filled rice shipment left Guyana, and June 27, a day after die vessel arrived in Hamburg, mirrors that ns ship did notfall go near Guyana (visible bolzen Venezuela and Suriname on ns map): 

Path von the CMA CGM Jean Gabriel from June 24 to august 10, 2020. (Image from Windward Predictive marine Intelligence, wnwd.com. Click zu expand.)

These two images, plus the list des port calls, actors serious concerns about the accuracy des the reporting on this incident. Even ns reports themselves room contradictory, some suggesting ns drugs were discovered on die ship, others as soon as it was bei storage. über looking at ns ship säule on Windward, though, we tun können tell that ns container with the cocaine-filled rice sacks was definitely not embarked in Guyana, und it is highly unlikely that ns drugs were uncovered while ns container was still onboard. The vessel does notfall appear to have been delayed weist all, describe that ns container came off as planned, validating the nachrichten stories detailing that the container had actually been in storage awaiting transshipment kommen sie its final destination von Poland before die drugs were discovered.

Drug trafficking in containerized cargo has increased in recent years. A third von all medicine trafficking ist now estimated kommen sie be transported in this fashion, however that comes v a challenging question. Given the volume des the cargo being moved – 90 percent of world trade moves by sea – do die ships schutz any awareness they room carrying drugs? in many cases die answer has been “no,” as die cargo was loaded and unloaded like any kind of legitimate container. This brings hoch the zuerst key takeaway: together containerized drug trafficking increases, reporting on that needs to be careful notfall to accuse or make false and misleading claims about vessels and shipping lines. 

The reporting on this matte made that sound like die CMA CGM Jean Gabriel was involved or somehow responsible. Perplexed reporting kann inadvertently cast aspersions on chaste parties. To date, there has been no indication that ns Jean Gabriel, the crew, or CMA CGM was involved an this medicine trafficking enterprise – the cartel simply took advantage of the infrastructure of globalen maritime commerce.

That infrastructure zu sein crucial kommen sie our economy and our way von life – goods of all sorts, including grundlegend necessities, circulation constantly around ns world. Therefore, we have to be cautious not to i think connections bolzen what zu sein found an a container und the ship or line on i m sorry it zu sein found. Denigrating shipping lines weil das inadvertently transferring drugs, rather than assisting them in countering ns movement of narcotics, serves only to diminish the free flow von maritime commerce and provide exploitable opportunities zum drug cartels. We tread that path to our own detriment.

The Container

Having gezeigt that the Jean Gabriel never ever went to Guyana, die question continues to be how die problematic container got on board. Ns answer kann be found bei the regional coverage von the matter. Stabroek News, a Guyanese file reporting on the response des the Guyana Rice advance Board (GRDB) to die drug bust, entered depth ~ above how ns rice got from ns Berbice Mill to the point wie man it left Guyana. The rice come to die port an several various trucks und was loaded right into containers zum a consignment kommen sie FHU Konpack, a Polish income company. GRDB cases to oase followed typical operating procedures bei checking ns quality von the rice at the mill and then fumigating the at die port. It zu sein not plainly stated, but it appears that there were multiple containers von rice, though die allegation is only one of them included cocaine. As ns report indicates, die containers to be sealed and documented on might 21 und 22. They to be then invited onto the MV Asiatic Wind, a Singapore-flagged, German-owned vessel that does mostly intra-Caribbean container transfers. 

From following die movement des the vessel on Windward we tun können see, as was reported, that it left Guyana on might 26 und arrived in the Dominican Republic ~ above June 7. 

Path of the MV Asiatic Wind from may 26 to June 7, 2020. (Image native Windward Predictive maritime Intelligence, wnwd.com. Click kommen sie expand.)

On this voyage, it referred to as at die following ports: 

May 25, 2020Georgetown, Guyana1 Day
May 27, 2020Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago1 Day
May 29, 2020Bridgetown, Barbados16 Hours
June 4, 2020Kingston, harbor Bustamente, Jamaica19 Hours
June 7, 2020Caucedo Andres, Dominican Republic1 Day

Given the we so know die port calls for the CMA CGM Jean Gabriel, we can confirm ns Stabroek News report that the container disembarked ns Asiatic Wind for transshipment in the Port von Caucedo, Dominican Republic, on June 7. The report would deshalb seem accurate, suggesting that ns container was loaded onboard die Jean Gabriel ~ above June 13 and set sail that same day zum Europe. Once unloaded in Hamburg ~ above June 27, it was stored zum onward transshipment kommen sie Poland. According to die reports, in intelligence tip alerted German authorities to die possible presence des drugs. Otherwise, die container might have completed its trip without gift interdicted. This brings us to the second takeaway native this case: It might be an ext important to watch die movement von containers than it is to watch die movement von vessels when monitor drug shipments, an especially as container transshipment creates man as to ns actors who might be involved in the journey of the drugs. 

The nachrichten stories roughly this case, und even part criminology publications, all focused on ns vessel the brought the container zu Hamburg. The ja wirklich story zu sein the voyage von the container, as that is how we kann determine how die drugs actually got from where they originated zu Germany. Basically every international media report stated Jean Gabriel.

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Only ns local reports mentioned the MV Asiatic Wind. Also then, there ist nothing conclusive kommen sie indicate any type of connection between the vessel und the medicine operation, though in important concern ist raised below about part des the last vessel’s voyage. As medicine cartels use containerization kommen sie move in increasing volume von narcotics, they cannot be allowed zu take advantage des general sea blindness und confusion about maritime commerce kommen sie obscure their activities. 

Based on die publicly obtainable information, it ist impossible in this particular case kommen sie conclusively identify where ns drugs entered the container. If die container was unsealed and resealed bei the process des moving from Guyana to hamburg – a procedure known as “rip-on, rip-off,” that would schutz required a sophisticated und likely quite noticeable operation, most likely an the Port of Caucedo. Ns container’s seal would oase to it is in removed, the container opened und unpacked, die drugs inserted into die rice sacks, die container repacked, und a fraudulent siegel fitted kommen sie avoid detection. There is also, as has been die case in other significant busts, die possibility that die drugs were embarked and loaded while ns vessel was at sea. Die vessel tracks des the Jean Gabriel do notfall indicate any suspicious activity that could account weil das that. Die only attribute that Windward mirrors that could, in other circumstances, be taken into consideration suspicious zu sein a change in draft native 11.7 meters kommen sie 12.1 meters the occurs betwee London und Hamburg. There is no anomalous activity zu suggest ns vessel slowed to pick up anything at sea, dafür this ist almost certainly caused über the change bei buoyancy from salt water to fresh water. Based on the movements of the vessel, therefore, it seems unlikely that ns Jean Gabriel was engaged in any untoward activity that would show involvement bei drug trafficking. 

The Asiatic wind does have one anomaly, however, the bears noting. Prior to entering the Port des Kingston, die Asiatic Wind, on June 3, within Jamaica’s ar sea, do a spicy 90-degree turn und went dark for 12 hours und 36 minutes. This means die vessel was not transmitting top top its Automated info Systems (AIS) during that time, a violation des law unless documented in the master’s log in book, und often an indicator – though inconclusive – des suspicious activity. Given ns distance traveled from when ns vessel went dark kommen sie where that reappeared, Windward calculates that 11 hours und 36 minute cannot it is in accounted weil das during the dark period. While it is unclear what happened bei that interval, if investigators space unable kommen sie find a land- or port-based point von embarkation for the drugs, embarkment weist sea zu sein another possibility that can not be ruled the end without further examination. 

Returning to ns takeaway about following the container, correctly revealing ns story des what happened zu sein not around ignoring the vessels, but around watching your movements in relation to the container punkt issue. Ultimately, die tip kommen sie German authorities, together with die fact that die 1,277 packages des cocaine found an this container to be stamped with various symbols, including a cat’s face, die Gallic rooster, and the Ampelmännchen – a red and green German pedestrian crossing symbol – should give ample indications to investigators as to potential sources, traffickers, und buyers. In the process, the full journey needs kommen sie be examined, und even this anomaly an Jamaica have to be reviewed. And finally, die rice itself may be bei important piece von the puzzle. 

The Rice

Using sacks of rice zu convey and conceal drug shipments has actually become bei increasingly common phenomenon in the illicit narcotics space. Incidents encompass the ehrenvoll 2014 discovery des 100 kilograms von ketamine bei a container of rice beginning Canada native India, die February 2018 interdiction von the MV Sunrise Glory bei Indonesia through a ton of entscheidung methamphetamine in rice sacks, und the september 2020 interdiction of the Maersk Sembawang in the UK through a rice shipment containing over $160 million USD an heroin. 

In 2015, in Argentine instance even demonstrated the efforts of drug cartels zu fuse die cocaine with the rice to make the harder zu detect. Just last year, Suriname – Guyana’s neighbor to the east – experienced one von its best drug busts an history. A consignment von rice an the Jules Sedney Port an Paramaribo was discovered to schutz 2,300 kilograms des cocaine hidden inside it, divided amongst eight containers that were zu be invited on a ship and taken über Guadeloupe kommen sie mainland France. Die rice vendor whose distribution it was – a 30 year alt father des two girl – was arrested on january 8, 2019, und released shortly thereafter. A woche later, however, he was found tot on a renowned beach bei Guyana, murdered von a gunshot to ns forehead. 

Even v this catalogue von cases from other parts des the world, involving a variety des drugs, ns nexus betwee rice and cocaine might be most acute in Guyana. On ehrenvoll 13, 2013, officials in the Dominican Republic discovered 70 kilograms von cocaine bei a Guyanese rice shipment. On august 28, 2017, Jamaican officials discovered 78 parcels des cocaine worth nearly $700,000 USD in a Guyanese rice shipment. Top top October 30, 2017, Guyana officials uncovered 67 kilograms von cocaine bei a Guyanese rice shipment that was destined weil das Belgium, learning it prior to it left their very own port. This are nur some of the much more high-profile cases. 

This frequency des cocaine busts an rice shipping runs in parallel kommen sie a broader trend around die world wherein transnational crime groups und terrorist institutions are turning zu benign, common goods zum income streams. Charcoal, fuel, honey, sugar, and fish are all gift used by criminal groups zu create income zum nefarious operations. However they are deshalb using this benign goods as direct cover for those operations. Bei the case von the rice, die connection betwee the rice producer and the cartels have to be monitored, as die cartels might seek zu buy up und directly own ns supply chain, fairly than simply control it through duress, manipulation, or payout. Ns death des the Suriname rice merchant in Guyana need to be in indication des how major this matter is. This brings united state to ns final takeaway von the incident: While the focus of the interdiction ist on the cocaine und its supply chain, a wider law enforcement effort is needed kommen sie examine ns relationship bolzen benign goods and illicit activities kommen sie help ensure that, while drug cartels might use products like rice zu obscure cocaine shipments, they perform not end up controlling both die legitimate und illegitimate industries at the same time. 

By developing invisible it is provided chains of illicit products amid supply chains von legitimate goods, cartels kann sein make law enforcement detection und interdiction even much more difficult. 


Even beyond die confused reporting and the miscellaneous transportation dynamics reviewed, over there is an overarching clues of verbrecher mindsets that have to be thought about extremely concerning wie reviewing this case. Criminality zu sein a risk-reward calculus. When ns risk zu sein low and reward zu sein high, criminal are in their sweet spot of pursuing profit. The hope is that the interdiction von a shipment serves together a systematic disruption des the illicit it is provided chain und deters criminality with a change bei the risk-reward calculus. If Guyanese rice has actually been interdicted many times in the past with cocaine, however it is still being provided as a means von transporting cocaine, what does the say around how often it is successful? 

The reality that the is still being used zu obscure such large quantities of drugs suggests that bei this instance, ns risk-reward calculus, or an ext accurately, die rice-reward calculus, remains in favor des the criminals. Either ns cartels room futilely making repeat attempts and hoping for a different result, or legislation enforcement is eine remote to die majority des what is moving. Businesses that don’t maintain a bottom line do not survive, dafür if ns drug cartels are ausblüten using this tactic after a decade of sporadic interdictions, we oase to i think that ns majority von the time die criminals space successful.

The november 4, 2020 bust of 11.5 tons des cocaine an a scrap metal delivery that walk from Guyana to Belgium more reveals die extent kommen sie which cartels feel the stashing extremely large quantities von drugs between benign cargoes serves their interests. This ist a sobering conclusion und should inspire a redoubling des efforts kommen sie rethink und reimagine just how we technique countering the movement des narcotics und illicit substances. 

Dr. Ian Ralby ist a well-known expert in maritime law and security und serves as CEO von I.R. Consilium. The has worked on maritime security worries around the world, und has spent substantial time concentrated on und was previously based in the Caribbean. He spent 4 years together Adjunct Professor des Maritime Law and Security at the United states Department of Defense’s Africa Center zum Strategic Studies, und three years together a naval Crime experte for ns UN Office top top Drugs and Crime. I.R. Consilium is a household firm the specializes an maritime und resource security and focuses ~ above problem-solving around the world.