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Increased Crime To Durban Port Highlights Risks For Import/Export Companies

The JFT Defense Solutions Intelligence Division

JFT Defense Solutions is a private security and intelligence firm that offers turn-key solutions for everything security-related an enterprise or business may need. Currently, they offer physical security services paired with tailored intelligence solutions to provide their clients with a “full solution” offering that is unmatched in the industry thus far. Additionally, they offer a consulting service to provide products and help train corporations with designated risk management departments to be well-equipped to efficiently mitigate their own risks and vulnerabilities.

(Photo Credit: The Daily Maverick)

Executive Summary: A recent large-scale drug bust at the port of Durban in South Africa has highlighted the increasing scale and frequency of crime occurring within major ports around the globe that serve as major transnational transit hubs. More specifically, beyond the recent drug seizure, many international ports have reported elevated levels of theft and vandalization of contents and containers that arrive at the transit point.  The increasing activity has also highlighted the need for stauncher security measures within ports and the possible necessity for enterprises to have private security providers work within the port as part of their maritime security strategy rather than just while the ship is traveling in open waters.

Context: On February 24, 2023, a major drug raid was carried out at the port of Durban in South Africa that resulted in the seizure of 739.5 kilograms of cocaine destined for Rotterdam. The incident occurred following a week-long intelligence operation conducted by South African authorities that included monitoring the vessel throughout its travels that originated from the port of Santos, Brazil. Authorities claimed that no arrests have been made, however, all of the illegal cargo has been seized as well as multiple cellular tracking devices, devices used often by smuggling operations to keep an eye on shipments easily. While no arrests were made, authorities have already alleged that the smuggling operation was most likely conducted by one of the multiple transnational criminal organizations that are known to operate within the port.

The recent seizure has highlighted the presence of multiple transnational organizations operating within the port of Durban such as Serbian organized crime, Italian mafia groups, and Brazilian crime groups that utilize decades-old smuggling routes between South America and South Africa. These groups have also been known to serve as middlemen for other large-scale criminal organizations located across South America and Mexico making it increasingly difficult for authorities to determine who the illegal cargo actually belongs to. Additionally, large-scale trafficking busts such as these, the nation’s long-time struggle with corruption paired with the scale and financing of these transnational criminal organizations have highlighted the high probability that many of the port officials and employees could be being paid bribes or extorted to allow these organizations to operate with little fear of repercussions.

Beyond illegal smuggling and transnational drug trafficking, the port of Durban has also been observing an increasing rate of vandalism and theft from the port over recent years. A Transnet National Ports Authority document has described the port of Durban as one of the premier petrochemical hubs for the country of South Africa and highlighted how the port has inadequate security measures to discourage unauthorized access pointing to the recent upsurge in localized theft and vandalization. Being that the nation has been engulfed in a struggle to provide essential services to its citizens such as electricity the demand for secondary power sources such as diesel fuel to run generators has continued to increase. These two issues paired with the port being a major storage hub for petrochemicals have led authorities to quickly surmise that local criminal groups are taking advantage of the inadequate security measures to steal highly sought-after petrochemicals to sell on the black market.  Additionally, inadequate security measures have also led authorities to warn that the possibility of unauthorized access to the port also increases the risk of terror, stowaways, and human smuggling.

The rising crime, frequency of unauthorized access, and lack of adequate security measures have prompted the port of Durban to begin construction of a new high-security fence around the perimeter of the port. It is believed that the new fence will help curb the rate of unauthorized access as it will be equipped with updated electronic access control systems as well as hardened security measures such as razor wire to discourage people from climbing over. Currently, it is estimated that the fence will be completed by mid-2024, however, many have pointed out that the port needs more security upgrades to further curb insecurity. The major issue that the port faces is that most of its infrastructure is over 40 years old, this issue is widespread across South Africa as seen with its power grid, and other essential service delivery systems due to the government’s lack of action and corruption. Furthermore, older infrastructure and inadequate security measures are not the only issues that need to be addressed for the port authority to curb insecurity. It has been reported that low wages, lack of resources, and lack of technology only further exacerbates the issue of crime as criminal groups understand that the port authority lacks the tools and personnel to accurately monitor shipments, unauthorized access, and other issues the port faces.

Analysis: The port of Durban within South Africa serves as one example of the many global ports that suffer from inadequate security measures, aging infrastructure, and lack of resources for authority personnel that companies and enterprises do not have a choice in utilizing due to politics, economic opportunity, and the utilization of established global trade routes. Businesses need to be aware and hyper-vigilant of these factors and begin reapproaching security and risk mitigation strategies for their import/export operations. Understanding these factors paired with visualizing the physical vulnerabilities stemming from these factors is one of the easiest ways that companies can approach drafting creative solutions to mitigating the possibility of risk within their supply chain.

Companies should move away from reliance on the host nation’s port authority as corruption and lack of infrastructure have proven to be one of the highest points of vulnerabilities for companies. Instead, companies should begin implementing maritime security strategies that include physical security for their cargo while it is in the port, not just while the cargo is in open water. Furthermore, companies should procure technologies that help monitor and provide data on their cargo independently to help discourage theft or smuggling. Small tweaks such as these two recommendations can make a massive difference in risk mitigation for import/export strategies as they help enterprises keep a near-real-time stream of data on their shipments as well as trusted security for their cargo that eliminates the need for reliance on the host nation’s personnel that could be corrupt or underequipped to deal with vulnerabilities.

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