What We Know About Illicit Trades Report

What We Know About Maritime Illicit Trades

Release Date: April 19, 2021
Lydelle Joubert
Publication Type: Report


What We Know About Maritime Illicit Trades is the second in a series of reports as part of the Transnational Organized Crime at Sea: New Evidence for Better Responses project. The project is a collaboration between the SafeSeas Network, based at the Universities of Bristol (UK) and Copenhagen (Denmark) and the One Earth Future Foundation’s Stable Seas program and is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research (PaCCS) and the One Earth Future Foundation.

This paper provides an overview of what we know about maritime illicit trades, how data is collected, what information is available, and which organizations are analyzing these data.

The list of intergovernmental organizations, governments, and nongovernmental organizations described in the paper is by no means exhaustive. The scope of the issue is exceptionally broad. Many of these efforts attempt to address the accessibility of data and gaps left by the larger data-collection and reporting initiatives.

Input and comments on earlier drafts of the report were provided by Dr. Curtis Bell, Professor Tim Edmunds (SafeSeas/University of Bristol), Dr Scott Edwards (SafeSeas/University of Bristol), and Professor Christian Bueger (SafeSeas/University of Copenhagen).

Key Findings

  • Transnational criminal flows encompass a broad spectrum of commodities and cargos, leading to significant differences in the knowledge base for these different forms of maritime illicit trades. The collation of incident-driven datasets based on open-source media reports and other sources may have the potential to resolve some data availability problems, including under- or non-reporting by individual states.
  • Organizations tend to compartmentalize different forms of trafficking, which ignores convergences and synergies across different trafficking forms. The maritime dimension is often neglected in datasets and it is not often possible to extract maritime illicit flows in datasets or reports.
  • One of the biggest shortcomings in trafficking data is the reluctance of some states to report trafficking data, creating an imbalance in datasets and statistics to the disadvantage of reporting countries. 
  • Not all datasets are shared on open platforms, some remain privileged to law enforcement officers of member states. 
  • When data are collected and available, there can still be significant gaps. Data gaps should be identified and acknowledged guide future data collection. Collaborative initiatives and the use of supplementary data from other organizations should be encouraged as it has the potential to overcome data gaps.

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