Cablegate: Alien Smuggling at Halifax Port

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


2. (SBU) SUMMARY: The port of Halifax is facing a growing
problem of stowaways, primarily of Romanian nationality, who
arrive here hidden in shipping containers on board commercial
freight vessels originating at southern European ports.
Certain smuggling rings, probably linked to organized crime,
appear to be exploiting marine shipping to Halifax as their
preferred means of getting illegal migrants into North America.
It is unclear how many of these container stowaways are seeking
to enter the United States as their final destination. (END

3. (SBU) Over the past several years, Canadian authorities in
Halifax have discovered increasing numbers of intending
immigrants arriving as stowaways aboard commercial container
ships bound from southern European ports. Contacts in the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and in Citizenship and
Immigration Canada (CIC) have told Congen that, in 2000, they
arrested at least 25 persons attempting to enter the country in
this manner. By 2002, the number had risen to 42. Although no
stowaways have yet been intercepted in Halifax in 2003, it is
too early in the year to identify a trend because most alien
smuggling of this type occurs during the warmer months of the
year. Local officials also acknowledge that it impossible to
know how many stowaways arrive in Halifax this way without being

4. (SBU) Marine container stowaways arriving in Halifax are
predominantly Romanian (at least 90 percent), although a small
number of Moldavians, Bulgarians, and other Eastern Europeans
have also taken this route. According to CIC contacts, they
tend to be males between the ages of 18 and 45. Most had been
living and working illegally for some time in other European
countries (particularly Italy and Spain), usually in
construction or as unskilled laborers, prior to embarking.
About 90 percent claim to have been assisted by a smuggler, who
brings them into the cargo terminal and places them in a
container prior to loading. The intending immigrants are
responsible for bringing their own food, water, toilet
facilities, and cutting tools. Fees for this service generally
range from 500 to 1,500 Euros. CIC and RCMP officials strongly
suspect that these smugglers have ties to organized crime, but
they have made no progress in identifying which criminal
organizations are involved.

5. (SBU) Smugglers typically place the intending immigrants in
40-foot shipping containers loaded with heavy goods such as
ceramic tile, paper, wine, or cognac. These containers have
sufficient empty space inside to accommodate the passengers.
The smugglers instruct their customers to cut themselves out of
their containers after about two days at sea, once the vessel is
far enough out to guarantee that the shipQs captain will not
turn around to put the stowaways ashore at the port of origin.
Halifax officials are convinced that these smuggling rings have
accomplices among the stevedores responsible for loading
vessels, since the containers with stowaways invariably are
placed along the outside of a stack, allowing the occupants an
easy exit from the container.

6. (SBU) In past years, according to Halifax officials, most
container stowaways had originated from the Italian ports of
Livorno and Genova. As recently as late 2001, the RCMP had
confided to Congen that Italian authorities seemed to show
little enthusiasm for aggressively combating this type of
outgoing alien smuggling from their ports. RCMP and CIC
contacts, however, now indicate that interest in port security
measures and cooperation in combating alien smuggling via
shipping containers has increased markedly among their Italian
contacts in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The RCMP
believes that port security measures adopted principally to
combat terrorism are beginning to have a beneficial trickle-down
effect on attempts to curb this type of illegal immigration.

7. (SBU) As Italian ports are becoming less accessible, our
contacts say, alien smugglers are shifting their efforts to
Spain, transforming Barcelona into the preferred port of
departure for container ship stowaways. Officials of the RCMPQs
Immigration and Passport Section returned last week from a visit
to Barcelona to improve cooperation and coordination with their
port security counterparts there. These officials told conoff
that the Spanish were cooperative and appear to be making major
strides in tightening security at the port. They reported that
new security measures in the port of Barcelona include a network
of 65 cameras tied to a central monitoring facility, improved
access IDQs for port workers, the introduction of electronic
cargo manifests, gamma-ray scanning devices, and improved
container seals. RCMP contacts also report the active support
of the stevedoreQs union, such as by making clear to its
membership that any complicity in alien smuggling would result
in the loss of union membership.

8. (SBU) Our contacts are cautiously optimistic that cooperation
with Italian and Spanish authorities will reverse the trend in
alien smuggling to Halifax via marine containers. The RCMP,
however, fears that the criminal organizations that involved in
trafficking in illegal immigrants might then simply shift their
efforts to other European ports with easier access. They say
that Lisbon could become a venue for such activity because port
security there has not improved as quickly or as markedly as in
Italy and Spain.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: It is unclear how many of these container
stowaways are seeking to enter the United States as their final
destination. Some of the ships carrying these intending
immigrants were bound for U.S. ports after leaving Halifax. We
will endeavor to get our local police and immigration contacts
to focus on this question in their future investigations into
this alien smuggling problem.

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