Crime and Australia's Waterfront

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By Kym Whitaker.

Australia’s geography underlies Australia’s reliance on maritime trade for most of its exports and imports.

The current risk posed by Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) towards the Australian maritime industry is significant and will develop as sea borne trade continues to increase and OCG’s adapt to a changing security environment.

Organised crime through Australia’s waterfront has been identified by the Parliamentary Join Committee on Law Enforcement as a significant problem. The ACC conservatively estimates that organised crime costs Australia $10-15 billion annually and the problem posed by organised crime as a whole in Australia has recently been recognised as a threat to national security for the first time.

The waterfront consists of various service establishments involved in the handling of cargo at Australian ports. These include “port-related services provided by port authorities, pilotage services, tugboat operations, all stevedoring services and container terminal operations, bulk terminals, customs agency services and the services of the customs and quarantine authorities….also covers bulk storage and container
depots even though these operations may occur away from the actual waterfront”.

All of the identified elements of the waterfront combined make this area a key link in the supply chain between international and domestic trade in Australia. Each link also provides different opportunities for OCGs to infiltrate into and gain access to an international market, particular in the wake of increased security measures in the aviation field making smuggling by air more difficult.

Types of Crime and Motivating Factors:

Motivating factors for OCGs to commit crime through the waterfront include the opportunity to create financial gain and hide illicit profits. When considering these issues it is key to remember that OCGs seek to balance profit opportunities with preserved risks of detection and prosecution”.

According to Ports Australia, the mass throughput in tonnes of trade through Australian ports for the year 2009-2010 was just below
1 billion.

Based on intelligence and conducting a risk assessment, Customs checks 3.25% of total shipping containers or approximately 100,000 annually. It is impossible to check every single container arriving through Australia’s ports and therefore without sound and current intelligence; customs, police and security are unlikely to discover a large percentage of OCG operations on the waterfront.

These factors make the waterfront an appealing high paid, low risk option for OCGs. Many forms of crime are committed through the waterfront including the illicit importation of drugs and precursor chemicals, money laundering, firearms and weapons movement, smuggling
flora and fauna, theft, tobacco and cigarette smuggling, mislabelled/counterfeit goods and tax/duty evasion.

The smuggling of firearms has also been on the increase through Australian ports. Firearms and Organised Crime Squad Commander Ken Finch stated that in the 12 months leading up to July 2011, a total of 6000 individual firearm pieces were seized.

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