Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crazy Things Confiscated By Customs Agents

These days just getting on an airplane is a cause for nervous tension. There's the latest TSA regulations about full body scanners and pat-downs. And that's in addition to long lines at security check points and what seems to be a constantly changing list of what you can and can't take on the plane.  And there's the ever increasing list of items and services that were once included as part of your air fare but are now additional fees charged by the airlines.  (What?  You mean you want to take luggage with you on your two week vacation?)  All-in-all, flying is not the fun experience it used to be.

And that's just on domestic flights. You add to that the need to clear customs on international flights, both entering a foreign country and coming home, and it's enough to make your head spin.

There's certainly been enough written about the TSA restrictions and requirements, so I won't dwell on them. But I did find an interesting list of contraband seized by Customs agents around the world…a bit more than trying to sneak in with an extra bottle of Merlot hidden in your suitcase.

And here is that list.

10) Shoes Stuffed With Heroin: Smugglers might be a scheming lot, but that doesn't mean they always use their brains. In October 2010, a 32 year old US citizen and her younger brother disembarked from a Caribbean cruise and were tagged by Customs for a secondary screening process. When they opened the woman's luggage they found 15 pairs of 1980s style men's shoes…definitely suspicious items for a woman to be bringing back from the Caribbean. They discovered over 6 kilos of heroin duct taped inside the shoes.

9) Human Skulls: And we're not talking about creepy Halloween decorations. In September 2010, two American tourists had 6 human skulls confiscated from their luggage at the Athens International Airport in Greece. They had purchased the 6 skulls at a souvenir shop on the island of Mykonos and thought they were fake. They were charged with desecrating the dead.

8) Tiger Cub: The 3 month old tiger cub was found sedated and hidden among stuffed animal tigers inside a woman's luggage at Bangkok International Airport when the oversize suitcase went through an X-ray machine. The woman was headed to Iran where the tiger cub could have brought in more than $3,000 on the black market. The cub was sent to a wildlife conservation center and the woman faced wildlife smuggling charges and fines.

7) Fake $100,000 Bills: In 2009, agents confiscated two $100,000 counterfeit bills from a passenger arriving at New York's JFK Airport from Seoul. In 1934, rare $100,000 bills were printed to be circulated between the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve Banks. The bills were never put into general circulation. The man claimed to have found the bills in an old book belonging to his father. The bills were determined to be counterfeit and turned over to the Secret Service.  The largest denomination bill printed in the United States today (and for many years) is the $100 bill.  It's possible that some larger demonination bills might still be out there and are legal tender, but they are taken out of circulation whenever discovered.

6) Cocaine Cast: A leg in a cast may garner some sympathy, but it didn't work for a Chilean passenger arriving at the Barcelona, Spain, airport from Santiago. Customs agents decided to spray the cast with a chemical that turns bright blue when it comes in contact with cocaine. And it did.

5) Bear Paws: And I'm not talking about the bear claw pastry, either. In October 2010, a dozen genuine furry bear paws were confiscated from a Vietnam man's luggage in Ho Chi Minh City Airport upon his return from Hong Kong. Bear paw soup is considered a delicacy.

4) Snakes and Lizards: You're familiar with the movie, Snakes On A Plane?  Well, in 2009 a would be smuggler taped 14 snakes and 10 lizards onto his body in an attempt to sneak them into Norway. Oddly enough, it was a tarantula spotted in his luggage that led to a full body search.

3) Bonytongue Fish: When an airline loses your luggage, it's an inconvenience. However, it's even worse when you're smuggling fish in your suitcases. In 2009 a man returning from Malaysia to his home in Queens, New York City, unfortunately did not have his luggage arrive on the same flight. The next day a Customs agent doing random checks on lost luggage discovered 16 fish packed in individual plastic bags and cushioned with Styrofoam. Considered good luck charms in Asian cultures, they sell for $5,000 to $10,000 apiece.

2) Rhinoceros Horns: Ireland is not where you'd expect to find pieces of safari animals. Over a period of time in late 2009 and 2010, three Irish passengers were busted at Shannon Airport for smuggling 10 rhinoceros horns valued at approximately 500,000 Euros, which at today's (Dec. 4) exchange rate is $670,700. Rhino horns are often ground down and used as a prized ingredient in Chinese medicine.

1) Snake Wine: A glass of snake wine might not have the same appeal as a nice Merlot. However, in Southeast Asian countries, a whole snake soaking in alcohol is a specialty. In May 2009, a routine Customs inspection in Miami revealed a cobra and other poisonous snakes packed into a jar of liquid in an express mail package from Thailand.  Snakes On A Plane part 2?

It makes that additional bottle of Merlot wrapped inside the sweater and stuffed into the corner of your suitcase not seem as bad.  :)


Vonnie Davis said...

How do these people have room in their luggage for these items? My suitcases are always jammed full with clothes. Unreal!

Toni V.S. said...

And I worried when I realized I'd gone through the line with a built-in cigarette lighter in my Alucard commemorative cigarette case! The entry about the snakes left me shivery. Whoa!

Samantha Gentry said...

vonnie: I know what you mean. Lots of extra space in my suitcase when returning home isn't even in my realm of reality! :)

Samantha Gentry said...

Toni: Yes, definitely on the snakes! Finding out you've made it through customs and/or security with a banned item is kind of like good news/bad news. Relief that they didn't confiscate it but guilt that it could have been. :)

Bianca Swan said...

Where did you come up with this list? Very interesting post. I'm with Toni on the snakes. AARGH.

Anonymous said...

I got my snake wine from this website and didn't have any problem when customs checked because snake are certified from farm:

Samantha Gentry said...

Bianca: Yeah, the idea of having live snakes and lizards strapped to my body definitely does not appeal to me.

Samantha Gentry said...

Anonymous: Purchasing from the internet sure beats trying to smuggle it into the country. And in the long run, much cheaper. :)