‘Significant trade’ in stolen car parts

Irish ports are being used for exporting less than legal – or, indeed, safe – cargo

There is a ship which leaves Dublin Port once a month loaded with scrap metal, old cars and bits of old cars, all intended to be reclaimed and recycled. It's known, colloquially, as the Tin Can Boat.

It’s one of several that leave Ireland’s ports with so-called “bulk solid”

An estimated 436,000 gross tonnes of so-called bulk solid passes through Dublin Port every three months, and this includes a range of commodities such as lead and zinc ore concentrates, cement products, and, of course, scrap metals. This is often the remnants from stripped and scrapped stolen cars. Further tonnages pass through the ports of Cork and Belfast but the issue at hand is that of the movement of cars and what used to be cars.

According to Sgt Will Saunderson of the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Vehicle Crimes Division, “there is still a very significant trade in the parts from stolen cars, especially to the Middle East. The likes of engines and airbags are worth a lot, and those will go out in proper, lined containers as if they were damaged . . . ” The rest, he says are the dregs.


We put it to Sgt Saunderson that these "dregs" essentially contain a great deal of potential evidence, that they represent the bits left over once the valuable parts of stolen cars have been stripped. He agrees with this assessment, butsays that given the resources available, there is little the Garda, or Customs, can realistically do.

End of life certs “We have carried out operations, with Customs, where we’ve X-rayed containers and shipments and we have found some bits and pieces. Moreover, even if we had every possible available officer, the act of checking every container, every shipment would effectively bring the shipping trade to a complete halt.”

There is a further issue that vehicles leaving the country with End of Vehicle Life certificates (ELV) are supposed to go for scrap – these cars are too old or unsafe to be used again. Inevitably though, many are put back on the road, most frequently in Africa. While Sgt Saunderson says that this re-use is a worry, he also pointed out that "once an ELV cert has been issued, our primary concern is that this vehicle is not re-used on Irish roads. Once it leaves the country, we really don't have the time to worry about it any more."

The National Transfrontier Shipment Office (NTFSO), a part of Dublin City Council, holds the primary responsibility for monitoring such shipments, but the office told us that its checks are to ensure that vehicles and vehicle waste conform to their descriptions.

“The NTFSO is concerned that waste items intended for export are correctly classified as waste for recovery as Green-list waste. Waste material declared as Green-list waste is subject to the general information requirements under the TFS regulations and correctly classified as Amber-list or mixed waste, which is shipped for recovery or disposal.

"With regard to inspections at ports in Ireland, NTFSO authorised officers ensure that the used vehicles and all used items within the shipment are functional and fit for direct re-use . . . and that the used vehicles and all used items within the shipment are not prohibited nor do they contain substances which are prohibited from export or import by the country of destination.

“If ELVs are exported from Ireland for scrap they are first de-polluted . . . before being exported as a non-hazardous waste.  There is no possibility that such vehicles can be re-used. ELVs that have not been depolluted are considered a hazardous waste and as such, are not routinely exported. Second-hand vehicles are exported from Ireland to destinations in west Africa. The onus is placed on the owner of the vehicle to prove it is not waste and to provide the appropriate documentation.”

Wheels of business

The problem is simply one of sheer size. Because the diktats of commerce mean that the containers have to keep moving and the ships have to keep sailing, there is little to no time to call a halt to sufficiently inspect such movements of goods to wheedle out much of what’s illegal. Even if the manpower was on hand to facilitate such investigations, the wheels of business would require that such work would in any case be brushed aside.

While such requirements are, perhaps, understandable, the fact remains that Irish ports are being used, entirely legally, for the exporting of less than legal cargo.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring