Singapore authorities seize $2m worth of illegal ivory on transit from Africa

Singapore authorities seized $2 million worth of illegal ivory last week - the third largest haul of its kind since 2002.

Acting on a tip-off, officers from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and the Singapore Customs intercepted and detained the shipment, which was passing through Singapore on transit from Africa in a 20-foot container.

The shipment - bound for another Asian country - was declared as coffee berries, but officers detected irregularities when the container was scanned at the Pasir Panjang Export Inspection Station last Tuesday(25 Mar).

The container was found to contain 106 pieces of ivory, weighing about one tonne in total. They were packed into 15 wooden crates.

AVA is investigating the case.

In June 2002, AVA seized the largest shipment of illegal ivory here yet: six tonnes of ivory tusks and cut ivory pieces. Six wooden crates were packed with 532 raw ivory tusks and 40,810 ivory pieces, and the shipment - transiting through Singapore from Africa - labelled "marble sculptures". The haul was worth about $1.5 million.

A local shipper was fined $5,000 - the maximum fine under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act then - for preparing documents to facilitate the shipment. The ivory was sent back to Africa for further investigation.

Just last year, AVA and the Singapore Customs seized 1.8 tonnes of illegal raw ivory tusks in a shipment once again transiting through Singapore from Africa. This contained 1099 pieces of raw ivory tusks in 65 gunny sacks - about $2.5 million worth of illegal ivory. No local importer was involved, AVA investigations revealed.

Elephants are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) which has, since 1989, prohibited international trade in elephant ivory.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act here, a permit is required for the import and export of elephant parts or products - including ivory.

Illegal trade in ivory carries a maximum fine of $50,000 per specimen - not exceeding a total of $500,000, imprisonment of up to two years, or both.

These penalties also apply to any transhipment of ivory through Singapore without proper Cites permits from the exporting or importing country.

In a statement, AVA said it will continue to work with Singapore customs, as well as other national and international enforcement agencies, to curb wildlife trafficking.

All companies should be cautious when accepting jobs from customers, and take care to avoid being implicated in the smuggling of illegal wildlife, their parts or their products, said the AVA.

Anyone with information on illegal ivory can contact the AVA at 6325 7625. All information will be kept confidential.