The ship above, the gargantuan M/V Dole Chile, was recently found to be carrying $2 million worth of cocaine into Delaware’s main port. The drugs were stashed in the ventilation system of a container loaded with bananas, which the ship delivers weekly to the Port of Wilmington. All in all, a nice little catch for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whose officers routinely inspect fruit shipments for evidence of invasive insects.
But the seizure also underscores the utter futility of interdiction strategies. As noted on the ship’s specs page, the M/V Dole Chile carries 2,000 TEU containers when fully loaded. According to this detailed 2006 study, an inspection team can X-ray 20 such containers per hour. Assuming that inspectors have roughly half a work day to clear a ship, then, less than 5 percent of the M/V Dole Chile‘s cargo gets scanned during any one visit.
More importantly, it’s not clear that a $2 million shipment of cocaine, which consists of just 26 two-and-a-half pound bricks, can reliably be detected via X-rays that are taken and interpreted in a three-minute span. That means such contraband can only be discovered through hand inspections. And the RAND study asserts that a five-person customs team can only conduct one search per day.
Given that the Port of Wilmington alone handles a new vessel every day, any drug lord worth his salt would have to like his long-term odds—especially since there’s no risk to human assets. Is it any wonder they can afford such first-class personal zoos?