By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's customs agency said Thursday it has captured a record amount of drugs over the January-April period, with smuggling attempts falling in number while rising in average volume.
The amount of drugs seized at borders reached 213 kilograms over the first four months of 2023, up 32 percent from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Korea Customs Service (KCS).
The customs agency attributed the growth to its tightened border control, coupled with the rising demand for narcotics in Asia's No. 4 economy, which used to be considered a drug-free nation.
The KCS said it was notable that smuggling attempts decreased in numbers yet increased in average volume. Authorities thwarted 20 methamphetamine smuggling attempts involving volumes of 10 kilograms or more, rising from 18 posted a year earlier.
Drug smuggling attempts in small volumes with less than 10 grams, on the other hand, sharply fell to 28 cases in the January-April period, compared with the previous year's 52 cases.
More than half of smugglers used international mail, with the volume reaching 114 kilograms, while some 23 percent of the amount captured was carried directly by travelers.
Smuggling attempts by travelers reached 48 kilograms, soaring from just 3 kilograms posted a year earlier amid eased COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The KCS said methamphetamine accounted for 41 percent of the drugs seized, followed by marijuana at 8 percent, synthetic cannabinoids at 8 percent and ecstasy at 3 percent.
By origin, Thailand accounted for 29 percent of the volume, followed by the United States with 23 percent and Vietnam with 9 percent. China accounted for 8 percent, the data showed.
The KCS added the amount departing from Southeast Asian nations, also including Malaysia, has especially posted a sharp increase.
Drug dealers also targeted South Korea as the average cost of drugs here greatly exceeds that in other countries. The agency said a gram of methamphetamine is traded at around US$450 in South Korea, compared with $44 in the United States and $13 in Thailand.
"Every day, (the customs office) is stopping two drug-smuggling attempts on average, with the volume reaching 1.8 kilograms. In terms of methamphetamine, the amount is enough to be used by 60,000 people," KCS Commissioner Yoon Tae-sik said.
"The role of the KCS is crucial as if we miss the smuggling attempts at the borders, it will be 10 and 20 times more complicated to bust them in the local market," Yoon added.
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