A large haul of Red Sandalwood (rath handun – රත් හදුන්) shipment has been seized by Sri Lanka customs this week. Based on a tip received by customs, the container which has been declared as sanitary items has been opened on Friday 22nd of November by customs officers. Instead of sanitary items, the shipment contained contained 4.5 metric tons of Red Sandalwood which is valued for about 100 million rupees.
The sandlewood shipment has been originated from a port of Chennai in India and en-route to Dubai which is a hub of red sandalwood smuggling. Talking to SundayTimes about this seizer, Samantha Gunasekera – the chief preventive officer of Sri Lanka customs said that this the shipment contained the best quality matured red sandalwood. Mr.Gunasekara recalls stopping about 4 shipments of Red Sandlewoods during last few years, revealing that this is the largest such shipment seized in Sri Lanka so far.
Red Sandlewood scientifically categorized as is a tree native to India. Its wood is having a fragrance and popular for its medicinal values. Red Sandalwood timber is also being used making of expensive furniture, natural dyes, natural colorations or perfume; hence received a high demand which pushed the tree to the brink of extinction where it has now become an ‘Endangered’. Cutting Red Sandalwood is banned in India, and the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) has restricted its legal international trade. So it is feared that the racketeers are trying to exploit Sri Lankan ports as transit point for illegal wildlife trade. However, thank to amendment of law, the Customs officers can now even seize goods in transit, according to Mr.Gunasekara.
Red Sandalwood doesn’t grow naturally in the wilds of Sri Lanka and only few trees introduced from India are present in few places. However, the White Sandalwood (Santalum album – සුදු හදුන්) that grows in Sri Lanka has been heavily exploited. The White Sandalwood has become a protected tree in 2009 and now it is illegal to cut. But as SundayTimes reported earlier this month, the instances where White Sandalwood smuggling has increased, despite the ban making it illegal. It is claim that the Sandalwood trees in gardens are been cut illegally at night by these racketeers. The customs Biodiversity Protection unit has also thwarted several attempts the white Sandalwood products are being smuggled out of the country.
The Sri Lanka customs are conducting further investigations regarding the seized Red Sandalwood, said customs spokesperson.