China sends landing barge full of forest cockroaches to America

U.S. Customs and Border Protection ordered a Panama-flagged bulk carrier to immediately leave U.S. waters earlier this month after invasive insects were found on board.

CBP reports that the Pan Jasmine arrived at anchorage downriver from New Orleans on July 17, arriving from Paradip, India, via Vera Cruz, Mexico.

An initial inspection of the vessel raised some concerns after it was discovered that the wood used to protect the previous cargo of aluminum, known as “anchorage,” had been left strewn across the deck rather than unloaded in Mexico. This prompted CBP and USDA officials to conduct a more thorough inspection, which found five separate pests, including two species (namely Cerambycidae, a species of beetle, and Myrmicinae, colonizing king ants) that are known to pose a serious threat to U.S. agriculture.

Because of the large volume of debris and the presence of pests, the ship was ordered to leave U.S. waters immediately, load the debris into the cargo hold and clean the decks before returning to the U.S. Pan Jasmine departed July 21 for Freeport, Bahamas, for ship disposal services.

According to CBP, cerambicides were discovered in New York in 1996 and then in Chicago. Native to China and the Korean Peninsula, Cerambycids were accidentally brought into the U.S. using wooden transportation materials and within two years, the infestation resulted in the destruction of nearly 7,000 trees. The cost of cerambycid eradication campaigns conducted between 1996 and 2013 is estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to have exceeded $537 million.

“If the building material had been unloaded in the U.S., it would have been placed in a landfill in Louisiana, where the insects could have crawled out and invaded the local habitat, causing untold damage,” said Terri Edwards, director of the Port of New Orleans. “Verifying wood materials in deliveries that are otherwise legal is one of the many, lesser-known ways that the Office of Field Operations agriculture specialists help keep our country safe. I’m proud of our agriculture specialists and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel for recognizing these dangerous pests.”

China has used insects as a means of warfare for thousands of years, but it is difficult to prove that pests were intentionally imported. Nevertheless, circumstantial evidence suggests that the importation of insects was most likely intentional.