Maritime | Maritime and Transport

Spotlight: Trident Task Force

17 Jul 2013, by Informa Australia

The faces of Trident Task Force
The faces of Trident Task Force: Detective Inspector Anthony Silva, front right and Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan, far left

Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan & Detective Inspector Anthony Silva recently joined us to discuss crime in the wider maritime environment, port security arrangements and the role of state police services in combating organised crime. Between them, Detective Superintendent Ryan & Detective Inspector Silva have over 70years service with the Victorian Police Force and an extensive array of policing experience, especially as investigators in serious crime,  organised crime, counter terrorism and corruption. Detective Superintendent Ryan was awarded the Australian Police Medal in the Australia Day Awards on 26 January 2011. In 2012, Detective Inspector Silva led a project to establish the joint agency task force now known as Trident: a specialised multi-agency team who utilise domestic, national and international resources to ‘target harden’ the maritime environment to infiltration of organized crime groups.

How susceptible is the port and maritime sector to criminal infiltration?

Both airports and maritime ports are ultimately commercial endeavours with a compelling national imperative to expeditiously facilitate trade. However, these sectors are also the gateway for the entry of illicit commodities into Australia.

While it is accepted that the majority of individuals involved in the aviation and maritime sectors are focused on legitimate activity vital to the Australian economy, there are a number of groups and individuals who are exploiting vulnerabilities within these environments to undertake criminal activities.

A wide range of criminal activity occurs in the maritime sector. Much of this activity is lower level volume crime but there is a proportion of high impact criminality within the maritime sector that is attributable to organised criminality.

Intelligence indicates that primary criminal activities within the maritime sector of organised criminal groups, networks or syndicates are illicit drug importation, domestic drug trafficking, duty avoidance on licit goods and organised theft.

Intelligence reporting revealed a dependence on trusted insiders and internal facilitating by organised crime groups for the recurrent methodologies that exploit maritime sector vulnerabilities for the major importations of illicit commodities to Australia.

What are some of challenges to addressing the threat of criminal infiltration?

The geography of Australia presents unique challenges to fighting domestic and international crime.   Australia relies on sea transport for 99% of our exports.   This makes Australian ports the largest freight hubs in the country. It also means that they are a prime gateway for the entry of illicit commodities, and as a result, a key target for criminal infiltration and exploitation.

The Port of Melbourne is Australia’s largest container and general cargo port, handling around 38 per cent of the nation’s container trade. It handles nearly $75 billion in international and coastal trade each year – equivalent to over $142,000 per minute – and contributes more than $2.5 billion every year to the Victorian economy.

The sheer scale of Victoria’s maritime environment and importance placed on maintaining an efficient flow of trade means that the susceptibility of organised crime infiltration will always be present.

What is Operation Polaris and has it had any impact outside NSW?

Operation Polaris is a multi-agency task force commissioned in July 2010 to combat organised crime on the waterfront in New South Wales. Polaris was established to carry out waterfront-related investigations and contribute to a whole-of- government response to organised crime in the maritime port environment.

The March 2012 report on Operation Polaris found that known organised criminals or people with strong links to organised crime groups are targeting and exploiting workers on the waterfront and in the cargo supply chain both in the public and private sectors. This has resulted in the subversion of employees in the sector, and the importation of drugs and other illicit substances into Australia.

Polaris made recommendations to Government implementing a number of measures focused on strengthening the environment and making it harder for organised criminals to operate in the waterfront and the cargo supply chain.

The Polaris report identified the following key areas for reform:

  • Port security (both security access controls and the Maritime Security Identification Card (MSIC) scheme)
  • The Integrated Cargo System, administered by Customs and Border Protection
  • Integrity and anti-corruption
  • The Container Examination Facility at Port Botany
  • Logistics and service providers such as freight forwarders and customs brokers
  • Engagement with private industry

As a result The Customs and AusCheck Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill was introduced to provide a number of important reforms to support the work of waterfront taskforces.

The legislation:

  • Places new obligations on cargo terminal operators and people who load and unload cargo. These obligations include mandatory reporting of unlawful activity and fit and proper person checks at the request of Customs and Border Protection;
  • Creates new offences for obtaining and using restricted information to commit an offence or for unlawfully disclosing that restricted information.
  • Gives the Chief Executive Officer of Customs and Border Protection the power to impose new licence conditions on cargo terminal operators at any time and makes it offence to breach certain licensing conditions; and
  • Amends the AusCheck Act 2007 to enable an Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) or Maritime Security Identification Card (MSIC) to be suspended where the cardholder has been charged with a serious offence. The list of serious offences will be prescribed by regulation.

The Government has also implemented a number of non-legislative reforms to harden the supply chain against infiltration by criminal groups including:

  • Changes to the Integrated Cargo system to limit access to specific cargo information to those in the private sector who have a direct and legitimate interest in the movement and clearance of specific consignments;
  • On-screen warnings for people who log into the Integrated Cargo System. People who use the Integrated Cargo System now need to agree that they will only use the system for legitimate purposes and will not provide information to unauthorised persons;
  • Increased targeted patrolling of the waterfront by Customs and Border Protection officers; and
  • Strengthened licence conditions on key participants in the trading system including holders of customs depot, warehouse and broker licenses

Since commencing operational activity on 1 July 2010 Polaris has: affected 39 arrests (182 charges); seized more than 12 tonnes of illicit substances and pre-cursor chemicals; seized $1 million in cash; seized 11 firearms with a further 8 surrendered; seized 119 tonnes of illicit tobacco and 92 million individual cigarettes, preventing the evasion of approximately $77 million in tax revenue.   It is difficult to quantify the impact of this result on the Victorian illicit trade but anecdotal evidence suggests the displacement of some organised crime has occurred.  To combat this effect the National Waterfront Taskforce group share a combined vision and purpose, communicating regularly to achieve a common goal.

How is the Trident Taskforce in Victoria different from previous operations?

Polaris provided the evidence base confirmation that organised criminals target and exploit workers on the waterfront. It was therefore agreed that Trident and Jericho be established to address organised and serious crime activities in relation to the maritime environment across Victoria and Queensland.

Trident was established in July 2012 as an enduring Joint Task Force to undertake criminal investigations and enforcement/compliance operations to prevent, deter and defeat serious and organised crime on the Victorian Waterfront. The taskforce consists of members from six partner agencies: Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Crime Commission.

Trident’s focus is on serious and organised criminal activity facilitated both within the geographical area of the maritime sector and other land based areas.  This criminal activity includes illicit drug importation and trafficking, other illegal commodities, money laundering, proceeds of crime, unexplained wealth, theft, extortion and corruption.

To combat organised crime consideration will be given and encouraged to the utilisation of non-traditional investigation methods and tactics focusing on the financial aspects of organised crime entities, particularly unexplained wealth.   Partner agencies will be used to identify criminality and take appropriate action within their legislation.

Another important aspect of Trident’s purpose is to ‘target harden’ the waterfront environment to infiltration by organised crime.   This action will involve working closely with industry to identify vulnerabilities then making recommendation for reform.

How does the Commonwealth government respond and prevent serious and organised crime?

Organised crime is an issue of national security that causes direct and indirect harms to our economy, safety and well-being. These harms are significant, with the Australian Crime Commission conservatively estimating that organised crime costs Australia $15 billion per year.

Recognising the importance of a robust approach to organised crime, in 2009 the Australian Government launched the Organised Crime Strategic Framework. The Framework:

  • Drives an integrated and collaborative Australian Government approach to addressing organised crime, and
  • Sets the strategic priorities for Australian Government efforts against organised crime.
  • The Framework establishes a comprehensive and coordinated response to target the most significant threats from organised crime in order to reduce its impact on the community.
  • The Framework will ensure law enforcement, intelligence, policy and regulatory agencies are collaborating effectively with each other, with their State, Territory and international counterparts, and with Australian businesses and the community to combat organised crime.

How do state police services deal with organised crime, especially given that criminals usually operate outside state borders?

While the Organised Crime Strategic Framework focuses on Commonwealth aspects, strong collaborative partnerships with the states and territories will continue to underpin a national response to organised crime. The close collaboration in responding operationally to nationally significant organised crime will continue through existing mechanisms.

Multi-agency approaches—both operational and policy or regulatory—underpin a whole‑of‑government approach to organised crime.

Multi-agency operational approaches, such as Task Forces, will draw on the skills, expertise, knowledge (including intelligence) and powers across Commonwealth, state, territory and international law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate and prosecute organised crime networks.

In Victoria the State Police works closely with the AFP, ACC, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and other partner agencies to prevent, deter, detect and disrupt organised crime groups.  Joint Taskforces such as: Trident; Joint Organised Crime Taskforce; the Joint Counter Terrorism Team; and the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce; exist to achieve this mission.

The Government and Customs and Border Protection Service have introduced a range of new measures aimed at reducing organised crime from infiltrating the cargo system. How does state law enforcement and Taskforce Trident fit into these initiatives?

The new measures introduced are a direct result of the work undertaken by Operation Polaris.   Those measures have been introduced in legislation and policy changes which are transferable nationally.   One of the greatest advantages of joint agency taskforces is the ability to share experience, resources, assets, intelligence and expertise.

What has been industry’s response to operations such as Taskforce Trident?

The industry response to Trident has been very positive.  There is a joint recognition that the removal of the organised crime threat from the water front is mutually beneficial to private industry, the State economy and safety and prosperity of all Victorians.

What can industry do to help law enforcement?

Trident recognises that the maritime industry is a complex environment with numerous and interacting influences and stakeholders.

We know that complexities in trade mean that there is potential for organised crime groups to camouflage themselves as legitimate businesses.  It should be made clear that it is not a case of law enforcement not trusting industry; rather it is simply recognition that the maritime sector is highly susceptible to criminal infiltration and criminal corruption

Attempts to address or mitigate systemic criminal vulnerabilities require a holistic and integrated approach from multiple government agencies and industry to ensure an effective synchronisation of resources to disrupt and defeat serious and organised crime in the maritime sector.

At Trident we see industry as a powerful partner and ally, given its ability to provide invaluable surveillance and deterrence at key points in the supply chain.  Therefore many of our key objectives centre on the formation of partnerships with industry, the community and other stakeholders.

Industry in effect becomes our eyes and ears.   They are in a position to understand even better than us what activities are unusual or suspicious.   This activity should continue to be reported through established reporting lines such as Customs Watch and Crime Stoppers.

 Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan & Detective Inspector Anthony Silva will be discussing law enforcement in the Victorian maritime environment at this year’s Port & Maritime Security conference in Melbourne on the 29 July 2013.   

For more details visit www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesec2013

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