The world’s fourth largest shipping company, Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement Compagnie Générale Maritime (CMA CGM) has placed a moratorium on the transport of wood from the Gambia, in West Africa.

The decision follows a BBC African eye investigation in March 2020 which revealed large quantities of the protected West African Rosewood being illegally trafficked though the Gambia.

Rosewood is being smuggled across Gambia from Senegal and surrounding countries. Image credit: BBC

Rosewood is being smuggled across Gambia from Senegal and surrounding countries. Image credit: BBC

“There was probably some protected rosewood inside their shipments from The Gambia to China,” says Guilhem Isaac Georges, director of sustainability at CMA CGM. The company has therefore “decided to halt its timber exports from the country until further notice,” Georges adds.

The shipping company also announced that it would create a global blacklist of shippers involved in the illegal trade of protected and endangered species. It is the first time an international shipping line has banned transportation of an entire classification of goods. Most of the Rosewood was found to be destined for China.

Rosewood is a family of tropical tree species widely used for furniture in Asia and China. By value and by volume, rosewood is the most trafficked wildlife product in the world. Also called Hongmu or ‘red wood’ this rare and valuable wood is prized for its colour and durability. It is used primarily for antique-style furniture.

Figures obtained by BBC Africa Eye showed that China has imported more than 300 000 tonnes of West African Rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) from The Gambia since President Adama Barrow came to power in 2017. That is the equivalent of about half a million trees and worth more than USD100-million (GBP80-million).

The Gambia is consistently among the five largest global exporters of rosewood, despite declaring its own stocks close to extinction almost a decade ago.

During a year-long investigation in both Senegal and The Gambia, multiple sources confirmed to the BBC that the rosewood being shipped out of The Gambia to China comes from the Casamance region of southern Senegal. Along a 170km (105 miles)-long stretch of the border between the two countries, the BBC found at least 12 depots containing rosewood and other timber. They were all within Gambian territory.

The West African Rosewood tree was given international protection in 2017. It was listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – known as Cites. The Gambian government, like Senegal, signed up to the international Cites convention. It permits a carefully regulated trade in rosewood so long as it is legal and sustainable.

The original article, by Charlotte Attwood, was first published on BBC News.