Shark fins surface among the cargo

In 2019, customs officer Annelies Homburg and a colleague found hundreds of kilos of fins from protected shark species in a cargo warehouse at Schiphol. The banned fish parts – originating from the Caribbean and destined for the Far East – didn’t end up in a bowl of soup but in an incinerator.

“In the past, I used to check goods at the airport myself; these days, I manage physical supervision officers at our cargo division at the airport. However, in early March, we were slightly overstaffed, so a colleague and I decided to go out into the field again. Soon, we received a notification from the Pre-Arrival team about a shipment from Cuba which was on its way to China. On the Central America-Asia route, there is an increased risk of drugs being hidden in the cargo, so we were asked to go and have a look.”

“When we entered the warehouse where the boxes in question were being kept, we immediately smelled a penetrating fishy odour. The accompanying paperwork said that the contents were sea cucumbers. We did, indeed, find those but we mostly found dried shark fins. We immediately smelled a rat and quickly called in a Flora & Fauna expert. He concluded that the required CITES permit was missing and stopped the batch. The subsequent investigation showed that it concerned body parts of two protected species, the silky shark and the great hammerhead. The fins – more than 200 kilos in total – were confiscated by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and taken to a destruction company. A lot of media reported the haul.”

“As an animal lover, I’m proud to have been involved in this case, even though it was more or less by accident. The fins had been skinned from live wild sharks, who died a slow and painful death. I hope Customs’ efforts contribute to stopping such horrible practices.”

This interview also appeared in our recently issued overview ‘Dutch Customs in 2019’. Click here to read the full publication.

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