Tight biosecurity measures to prevent stink bug entry to Australian ports

Australian Customs officers. Credit: David Warwood

Australian customs authorities have introduced strict new regulations on container imports to prevent an East Asian brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) infestation.

The heightened biosecurity measures will apply to all vessels that berth, load, or tranship from risk countries and any high-risk goods shipped between 1 September 2019 and 30 April 2020.

The Australian Freight & Trade Alliance has notified its members of the new import regulations in advance.

Shipments of all cut flowers and foliage from Colombia, Ecuador, and Kenya are not allowed entry to Australia without an import permit. All flowers must be treated prior to export.

Other containers and cargo arriving in Australia can be treated and cleared at authorised sites.

Customs biosecurity officers will examine shipments arriving at the Australian border under the import permit to confirm they are free from live pests.

“Goods that require mandatory offshore treatment, that arrive untreated and/or have detections of BMSB, will be directed for immediate containment and exported, either on the same vessel or next available vessel,” a department spokesperson told SAS.

Any deliberate non-compliance will be subjected to formal investigation, administrative action, and criminal prosecution.

The bug has already spread to Europe and could cause widespread crop damage in Australia. It is expected to ‘hitch hike’ on imported goods and vessels in the coming weeks to escape the northern winter.

Australian biosecurity officers have been working with university researchers to train dogs to detect the bugs expected to arrive on cargo and in containers in the coming months.

“As part of this project, we’ve trialled detector dog screening for incoming sea cargo in Brisbane,” Head of Biosecurity Detector Dog Program Jessica Mitchell announced. “This is a first for biosecurity in Australia.”

The detector dogs will assist with detecting biosecurity risks including seasonal hitchhiker pests such as BMSB.

“These activities may be conducted at the wharf. At present, the detector dogs are not utilised on board a vessel,” a spokesperson told SAS.