FROM THE MM&D JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012 PRINT EDITION:
In January, 11 containers out of 168 returned to Canada by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan had their contents stolen.
“Some sea containers have arrived in Canada missing equipment, all of which is non-critical, listed on the container manifest. In some instances, the missing equipment was replaced by rocks and other weight so the loss would not be noticed until the containers were opened,” said Canadian Operational Support Command public affairs officer, Lt-Cmdr John Nethercott.
The statement that rocks were substituted for supplies raises a number of questions, not just about national security—if rocks could be substituted, theoretically so could explosives or even drugs— but about the shipping process itself, especially since the freight forwarder insists that all was well with the containers.
Alda Rodrigues, president of Montreal-based AJ Maritime Inc says she has been shipping cargo for the Canadian military for 22 years, and has been working with the Afghanistan operation for six years. Although she has a strong relationship with the Department of National Defence (DND), she takes issue with the statement about the lost cargo.
“It’s very difficult. They were all sealed. All the seals were still there. No container is put onboard a vessel without the appropriate seal on.” Rodrigues says the goods she moves fall into the category of “sustainment cargo,” and include items like lumber, field rations, gym equipment, shoes and packaged food for Tim Horton’s. She has never forwarded ammunition.
Her containers are transported on chartered ships from Port of Montreal to Pakistan and then by road convoy to Afghanistan. When cargo is to be shipped back to Canada, containers are picked up at the airfield in Kandahar and delivered to Canadian bases back home.
According to Nethercott, the Canadian Forces doesn’t ship sensitive cargo such as uniforms or ammunition over land. It is moved by air. But cargo that
falls in a slightly less critical category does move by sea and ground.
At press time, there were still 446 containers sitting in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan and 18 more in transit.
At this point, it’s still unclear as to how or where the pilfering and substitution took place.
Col (ret) Michel Drapeau is a lawyer and a professor of law, but he also spent 34 years as a logistics officer in the Forces. He says the packing and
documenting would have likely been done by military personnel and courier logistics officers. As the containers traveled en route, they would have been accompanied by security, either from the Forces itself or, more likely, private security contractors.
Drapeau says if he were in charge of the investigation, he’d look at the entire process.
“If the seal is on it, and if I were investigating it, I would not be concerned with what happened to the shipment in transit, unless those seals can be duplicated, or there is some way you can have access to the container without breaking the seal. If it was sealed properly, you’d better go back to the point of departure and then you’ve got ask, ‘what happened here?’”
While it’s not involved in investigating the theft, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) was called in to help screen inbound containers. Luc Labelle, information officer for CBSA, reports “CBSA is working in partnership with DND to ensure that the containers flagged as suspicious do not pose a threat to Canadians. No threat has been found. The CBSA will continue to work with DND to risk assess future shipments.”