A joint global Customs enforcement operation initiated by the World Customs Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and code-named “Sky-hole Patching II” led to the confiscation of more than 7,500 cylinders of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), and other ozone depleting substances.
Totalling over 108 tonnes of ozone depleting substances (ODS) and 668 pieces of equipment containing ODS, each of these man-made chemicals is linked to the rapid depletion of the ozone layer and all have been either banned or subject to strict controls under the terms of the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer.
“This global operation by Customs in partnership with the WCO and UNEP which hauled in spectacular quantities of illegal ODS clearly demonstrates the success of this tripartite alliance against this dangerous trade and the organized criminal gangs who profit from it,” said Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General of the WCO. “We cannot allow goods that threaten the health and safety of world citizens, which contribute to global warming and inevitably to negative climate change, and which damage the environment – perhaps more far-reaching than what is estimated – to circulate the globe without taking serious action,” Mikuriya added. “I can only commend all those who took part in this project and urge Customs and their partners to continue their enforcement efforts to secure our borders from all forms of illegal and illicit trade,” concluded the Secretary General.
“Illegal trade in ODS poses a threat to the successful recovery of the protective ozone layer as well as to the climate system, since most of the smuggled chemicals are also powerful greenhouse gases,” said Rajendra Shende, Head of UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) OzonAction Branch. “In the 2000s, illegal trade in ODS was reported to have been worth around 60 million US dollars – equivalent to 10-20% of global legitimate trade,” he added. “We are very encouraged to see the continued commitment and high priority the WCO gives to environmental issues and are proud to be cooperating on this joint project as Sky-Hole Patching II is helping to build awareness and encourage cooperation between the Customs community and environmental authorities in combating the smuggling of ODS and enabling full compliance with the requirements of the Montreal Protocol,” Shende concluded.
Built on the success of Project Sky-Hole Patching I which saw 21 Customs administrations in the Asia/Pacific region seize over 700 tonnes of ODS in 301 incidents between September 2006 and September 2009, Project Sky-Hole Patching II saw over 80 countries pledge their commitment to participating in the project, making it a truly global event.
Driven by the global ban of CFCs and halons, and their phase-out in the European Union coupled with large reductions in HCFC consumption in the United States since January 2010, Project Sky-Hole Patching II between 3 May and 2 November 2010 was launched to monitor the trade in ODS, prevent and detect emerging trends in illicit trafficking and monitor gains made.
Customs officials at 275 seaports and other selected points intensified their risk profiling and physical controls over several thousand shipments to identify high risk goods, notifying one another of suspicious outgoing and incoming consignments using CENcomm, the WCO’s secure communication tool for exchanging information.
While a number of seizures were reported from Europe, Africa and Central Asia, the majority of seizures took place in the Asia/Pacific region, notably in China, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and India. Two significant examples illustrate the success of Sky-Hole Patching II: Royal Thai Customs netted a fantastic total of 1,200 cylinders of ODS during the course of the operation and French Customs successfully stopped the illegal export of 44 tons of HCFCs in two incidents.
A particularly interesting case was reported from the Gambia, where two tonnes of cocaine smuggled from South America was seized together with several dozen cylinders of CFCs – highlighting the interrelation of ODS smuggling with organized crime, in this case, narcotics smuggling.
The ODS seized during Sky-Hole Patching II, had they not been confiscated, would have presented the equivalent of 400 thousand tonnes of CO2–equivalent emissions, if released into the atmosphere.
Customs administrations were actively supported by National Ozone Units – government entities responsible for managing national compliance strategies under the Montreal Protocol – who shared information and provided expert advice. UNEP’s DTIE, and its Regional Offices, also supported the project with the network of WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) playing an important role in coordinating Customs’ actions; the RILO for the Asia Pacific region acted as the Operation Coordination Unit.
As a supplement to numerous national workshops hosted by National Ozone Units, the Green Customs Initiative (GCI) organized eight regional Green Customs workshops to enhance the awareness of Customs officers and arm them with practical skills. GCI is a collaborative approach to training Customs officers in fighting environmental crime and in facilitating legitimate trade in environmentally sensitive commodities. It comprises the secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements (Basel, Cartagena, CITES, Montreal, Rotterdam, and Stockholm), as well as INTERPOL, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, UNEP, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the WCO.