CBP grounds $1.8 million cocaine shipment at San Juan Airport

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at Puerto Rico’s San Juan Airport seized 161 pounds of cocaine hidden inside several boxes manifested as containing flowers.

The narcotics, which have a street value of $1.8 million, were discovered Saturday by a CBP Contraband Enforcement Team using specially trained dogs. Homeland Security Investigations agents immediately took custody of the packages for investigation, the agency said.

CBP said the drugs arrived on board a cargo aircraft flight that originated in Bogota, Colombia.

Jeffrey Quiñones, a CBP spokesman in San Juan, told American Shipper this is the third illicit drug shipment of similar size to arrive in flower boxes at the airport during the past year. He added this latest seizure was discovered on a cargo flight that stopped in San Juan for fuel.

“Transnational criminal organizations select diverse routes within the supply chain to introduce narcotics,” Roberto Vaquero, CBP’s assistant director of field operations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said in a statement. “Businesses and companies within the supply chain must reinforce their security systems to avoid such inconveniences.”

Freight forwarders remain at the forefront of air cargo security. “Of course, much of the focus has been on keeping improvised explosives and undeclared hazardous material out of boxes, but illegal drugs are always a concern due to demand for them,” Brandon Fried, executive director of the Washington-based Airforwarders Association, told American Shipper.

The association advises its members to always “know your customer,” Fried said.

“If someone with boxes simply appears on the dock and wants to ship with no prior business history or relationship with the forwarder, that individual should be treated with some initial caution and vetting. This analysis should include credit checking, a business legitimacy review and in the case of air cargo, adherence to the Known Shipper Program requirements, as well as the physical screening of the cargo itself,” he said. “Forwarders should immediately contact local law enforcement authorities if they detect strange behavior or encounter suspicious packages.”

Fried added, “Taking these prudent steps will minimize the chances of these shipments entering the supply chain through the forwarding community.”