One of the world’s largest shipping lines has announced a moratorium on the transport of any wood from The Gambia.
A BBC Africa Eye investigation revealed in March that vast quantities of protected West African Rosewood was being trafficked through the country.
Most of it ends up in China, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found.
Gambian authorities have previously denied any involvement in the smuggling.
Rosewood is a family of tropical tree species widely used for furniture in Asia and in particular China. By value and by volume, rosewood is the most trafficked wildlife product in the world.
In June, the EIA published a report saying shipping companies were transporting contraband timber from The Gambia to China.
Three months previously, Africa Eye published an investigation into the million-dollar trade in trafficked rosewood.
Shipping company Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement Compagnie Générale Maritime (CMA CGM), the world’s fourth largest, said that it had done its own investigations as a result of the evidence uncovered by the BBC and EIA.
“There was probably some protected rosewood inside their shipments from The Gambia to China,” said Guilhem Isaac Georges, Director of Sustainability for CMA CGM.
The company has therefore “decided to halt its timber exports from the country until further notice,” he told the BBC.
The shipping company also announced that it would create a global blacklist of shippers involved in the illegal trade of protected and endangered species.
The EIA said that it believed this was the first time a shipping line had banned transportation of an entire classification of goods.
Rosewood is a family of tropical tree species widely used for furniture in Asia and in particular China.
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.
In 2017 the West African rosewood tree was given international protection. It was listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – known as Cites. It is a multilateral treaty to protect the living environment.
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.
Mr Isaac Georges said that in the current context in The Gambia, it was impossible to be certain that the country was abiding by the Cites regulations.
So, CMA CGM decided “to go further than the local regulations to protect the environment”.
He added that: “The group acknowledged that ‘this highly sought-after wood is felled illegally in the region and then exported under various different guises.”
The timber sector in The Gambia is “plagued by opacity and corruption, it provides the perfect ecosystem for criminal networks to thrive,” Lisa Handy, Director of the Forest Campaigns at EIA, told the BBC.
CMA CGM said it hoped it was “demonstrating its leadership within the shipping industry in the protection of the environment.”
“It is a notable move and a very auspicious start… other shipping lines must also act,” Ms Handy said.