Photo/IllutrationNagoya Customs officials seized about 340 kilograms of illegal stimulant drugs from this warehouse in Nagoya's Minato Ward in October 2018. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

NAGOYA--Crime gangs are increasingly using waters near Nagoya Port to smuggle in illegal drugs from Taiwan, taking advantage of the close proximity and the relatively low number of customs officials.

Nagoya Customs, which oversees the five prefectures of Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Shizuoka and Nagano, seized a record 346 kilograms of stimulant drugs in 2018.

In one case uncovered in October that year, customs officials at Nagoya Port seized about 340 kg of stimulants with a street value of around 20 billion yen ($182 million).

For 16 straight years until 2017, Nagoya Port has recorded the largest volume of cargo unloaded at any port in Japan. But Nagoya Customs has only about 900 staff members, at least 500 fewer than the customs houses in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka.

“Compared to the Kanto and Kansai regions, Nagoya has fewer customs officials,” an organized crime source said. “More gangs have been making deals in waters off the coast of Nagoya in the belief that the probability of success will increase.”

Finance Ministry officials said the volume of illegal stimulant drugs from Taiwan seized across Japan has shot up in recent years.

In 2015, there were only four cases involving 45 kg of stimulants, but the numbers shot up to 16 cases and 104 kg of drugs seized the following year. In 2018, there were nine cases involving 345 kg.

Much like North Korean vessels trying to evade international trade sanctions, drug smugglers are making exchanges at sea.

According to organized crime sources knowledgeable about activities related to drugs, Taiwan has become a popular origin because of the ease of sealing deals on the waters off Japan.

“Boats from Taiwan can make roundtrips without refueling to areas around Shikoku, so that opens up the possibility for making trades at various locations,” one source said.

Another reason is economics. While the street value of a kilogram of stimulant drugs is about 1.2 million yen in Taiwan, the price shoots up about 50 times when sold in Japan, sources said.

In addition to the huge bust last year, Aichi prefectural police found that members of a Kanto gang and the Taiwan mafia were involved in the case of a man who was arrested three years ago on suspicion of possessing narcotics, including cocaine.

An investigative source with Aichi police said efforts would be made to cooperate with Nagoya Customs to seize more drugs because new smuggling methods and locations were always being tried.