Customs is getting more wind of drugs

The Odor Extracting Device is an example of smart innovation. It has been developed especially to be able to inspect containers more quickly using drug-sniffing dogs.

To do our work as well and as efficient as possible, we are thinking of new and smart solutions at Customs all the time. It is necessary to be able to respond to, for instance, the cunning smuggling methods that criminals think up. A good example of smart innovation is the Odor Extracting Device or OED, which was developed especially for checking containers more quickly with the use of drug-sniffing dogs.

Customs has been using dogs for many years in combating drug smuggling. The animals have a superior sense of smell and they are able to distinguish all sort of smells. The Odor Extracting Device has given Customs a best way of using that exceptional talent. It is not even necessary to open the containers for that purpose. We put a hollow metal pin through the rubbers of the doors, and insert a tube through the pin, which is connected to a vacuum pump. That pump sucks in the air from the container over a piece of cotton wool in a glass jar. The cotton wool is like a sieve: the molecules are left behind in the fibres. We let the dogs smell the pots in a ‘carrousel’ which contains several jars at once. We do the tests in a sterile and controlled space at the Maasvlakte, free of impulses, without wind, sound and other smells or distractions, and at a stable temperature. A dog can check 10 jars within 20 seconds. It is immediately clear from the response of the dog which containers we have to inspect in more detail.

More applications
The inspection system can also be used for sealed spaces other than containers. In addition, the system can be used for complex consignments such as bulk cargo, scrap, fluids and mixed consignments, as criminals are getting smarter all the time. For example, they mix cocaine with flower, which cannot be seen on a scanned image. Or alternatively, they hide the drugs in scrap, which a dog cannot reach easily. The OED makes it easier for Customs to respond to practices like that.

Moreover, the method can be used at locations other than the Rotterdam port. We have a special truck at our disposal of which the loading area offers the same ideal circumstances as our operational space at the Maasvlakte. It means that we are also mobile and flexible and we can deploy the OED from Eemshaven to Vlissingen.

Less disruptions of logistics
The Odor Extraction Device offers more advantages. Customs can do substantially more inspections in the same amount of time, which means there is less disruption of the logistics process. The use of this method means that seals no longer need to be broken and the goods can be unloaded prior to checking with a dog. The goods remain ‘as they are’, which is also better insurance-wise. If there is no need to open cooling containers with fruit, it means that the ripening process does not start earlier. The use of the OED enables us to check much earlier in the process, i.e., aboard a ship. It enables us to go, using a rucksack and jars to extract the air. It means that we can already give a decisive answer about the load prior to the containers being on the quayside.

Interest from others
This approach in the process of which air is extracted from the containers, is unique in the world of customs. There is a lot of interest from all over the world in the system we developed. Foreign colleagues ask whether we wish to share information and if they can come over. However, we first wish to implement said technique well in our own organization.
In the meantime, the OED has been used for matters other than finding drugs. Think of precursors – chemicals used to manufacture drugs –, tobacco and money. The device works in respect of any substance and any product which produces molecules.

In edition 8 of season 2 of the series ‘De Douane in Actie’ (‘Customs in Action’), the Odor Extracting Device (OED) is discussed.  You can view the series again on RTL XL and Videoland.

The range of means of inspection
The Odor Extracting Device (OED) fits into a large range of aids Customs has at its disposal to use during the course of inspections for drugs. It is a combined method using tracker dogs and it may be combined using devices such as scanning equipment and detection tools. In addition, Customs has a national visitation team of 25 men for intensive inspection aboard ships. In addition to a national diving team for checks of ship walls and ship bottoms below the water surface. We furthermore increasingly use camera supervision and we are starting to use drones for the surveillance of the port areas.

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