Combatting Illicit Wildlife Trade and Corruption in Maritime Transport


Illicit Wildlife Trade

The Covid-19 crisis has drawn drew increased attention to wildlife trade and to the work that many organizations do to prevent the Illicit Wildlife Trade (IWT).

Wildlife trafficking is estimated to generate more than US$200 billion per year; making it the fourth largest illegal trade, after trafficking in counterfeit products, drugs and humans. Shipping is a popular method of illegally transporting wildlife, since it provides cost-effective opportunities for perpetrators to smuggle large volumes of animals and plants undetected.

IWT and smuggling of animal products are matters for customs and border control authorities and are addressed through the World Customs Organization's (WCO) SAFE Framework of Standards. The role of WCO as lead agency with respect to maritime cargo security is recognized by both MSC and FAL Committees (MSC-FAL.1/Circ.1).

FAL 40 noted that IWT has many parallels with illicit drug trade, an issue that was addressed by the Committee in the past through the adoption of resolutions MSC.228(82) and FAL.9(34) on Revised Guidelines for the prevention and suppression of the smuggling of drugs, psychotropic substances and precursor chemicals on ships engaged in international maritime traffic. The Committee, while recognizing that IMO is not the lead agency for the prevention and suppression of IWT or the smuggling of drugs, agreed that failure to take appropriate measures to prevent the carriage of such products on board ships might lead to seafarers or ships being delayed, including for legal proceedings.

Moreover, the IMO involvement in IWT by ship is relevant both for the IMO strategic plan: SD 5: Enhance global facilitation and security of international trade; and for the IMO commitment to support the implementation of the 2030 agenda, especially United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production), 14 (Life under Water) and 15 (Life on Land). 

In this context, the IMO is one of the 150 signatories of the United for Wildlife (UfW) Transport Taskforce Buckingham Declaration, which is a landmark agreement to take steps to remove the vulnerabilities in transportation and customs in order to prevent IWT. UfW was created by the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and unites the world's leading wildlife charities to prevent critically endangered species from being wiped out.

The IMO Secretariat participates in the UfW Transport Taskforce, which is a network of private, public and third sector partners working individually and co-operatively to reveal, disrupt and prevent illegal wildlife traffic.  In 2018, a Financial Taskforce was also created to address the role of financial institutions in the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

IMO Guidelines

The FAL Committee at its 44th session in 2020 agreed to develop the guidelines, following a proposal by Kenya, through an informal working group, which included participation from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), TRAFFIC and United for Wildlife.

FAL 46 approved the IMO Guidelines for the prevention and suppression of the smuggling of wildlife on ships engaged in international maritime traffic (FAL.5/Circ.50). The guidelines are expected to serve as a tool to combat wildlife trafficking in the maritime sector and its implementation must be in accordance with international law, in particular, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

The guidelines aim to encourage collaboration and coordination at international, regional, national and port level, and between competent government agencies, maritime transport operators, shippers, seafarers and other stakeholders engaged in the prevention and suppression of wildlife trafficking.

A new amendment to the FAL Convention to be adopted in 2023, recommends that every Contracting Government establish a national maritime transport facilitation programme to facilitate trade while also combating illicit activities.

Symposium on IMO action against wildlife trafficking in international maritime supply chains

In July 2022, a Symposium organized by IMO and Thailand on IMO action against wildlife trafficking in international maritime supply chains took place during IMO Council (C-127). More information can be found here.

Related Links:

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments which aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

United for Wildlife:  

Special Analysis: How will COVID-19 impact global wildlife trafficking?



Corruption in the maritime sector undermines operations. In terms of ship-shore interface, it causes delays, generates higher operational costs, threatens safety, affects the well-being of seafarers and stifles the economic development of countries.

IMO Guidance

The FAL Committee has approved the Guidance to implement and adopt procedures against maritime corruption (FAL.5/Circ.48. Contracting Governments are now required to encourage public authorities to assess the risks of corruption and address them by developing and implementing preventive measures to strengthen integrity, transparency and accountability. Public authorities are required to coordinate efforts to detect, investigate and sanction corruption related to ships' calls in the port, including through national and international cooperation.

The guidance encourages the use of administrative or criminal penalties to prevent corruption, regular updates to existing anti-corruption measures or implementation of new measures, and anti-corruption training for relevant personnel who are actively engaged in ship/shore interface operations. It contains a list of some best practices and procedures against maritime corruption.

Related Links

The maritime industry has established the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN), a global business network working towards the vision of a maritime industry free of corruption that enables fair trade to the benefit of society at large. More information about MACN can be found here (