Belgian authorities are planning to increase container scanning using artificial intelligence (AI) at its ports, focusing on shipments from high-risk areas like Latin America to combat drug smuggling. Currently, only 5% of containers entering the country’s ports are scanned, according to Belgium’s customs chief, Kristian Vanderwaeren.
The measure is part of a broader effort to reduce the influx of drugs through major European ports such as Rotterdam, Hamburg, Algeciras, and Antwerp. However, there are concerns that the efforts may simply shift the problem to other ports in Europe.
“We may find that if we push too hard, for example in Antwerp and Rotterdam, it just moves elsewhere,” Vanderwaeren said in an interview with Danish business daily newspaper Børsen. “We may be able to throw the problem out of our ports or at least reduce it – but it makes no sense if it then moves to Germany or Denmark.”
The increasing focus on the role of ports in drug smuggling is due to the fact that criminal organizations have been able to infiltrate ports and obtain access to containers before authorities. In Denmark, for example, it has emerged that biker gangs have infiltrated the country’s largest container port in Aarhus.
In response to these challenges, the European Commission has proposed increased cooperation and security measures among port authorities across Europe. These measures include surveillance, employee background checks, and information exchange between countries.
The European Commission has also identified a number of methods used by criminals to smuggle drugs via shipping containers, including:
- Switching to containers that are checked less frequently.
- Using stolen container reference codes (PIN fraud)
- Cloning container registration numbers
- Using extraction teams that wait for opportune moments to pick up a shipment.
Criminals also rely on corruption to succeed, as they need port insiders to organize the transport of containers of drugs and illicit goods into the EU.
The use of AI in container scanning could help to identify drugs and other contraband more effectively and efficiently. However, it is important to note that AI is not a silver bullet, and criminals are likely to continue to develop new methods to evade detection.