On July 20, 2017, a transport vessel registered in Hong Kong left Charleston, South Carolina carrying an assortment of cargo, including a refrigerated container loaded with about 6,000 pounds of human remains valued at $67,204.
According to Reuters, it was business as usual for the shipment’s owner, a Portland-based company called MedCure that collects and dissects bodies donated to it and sells them to medical training and research companies.
"No other nation has an industry that can provide as convenient and reliable a supply of body parts," the news agency remarks.
The demand for body parts is apparently caused by laws and religious taboos that exist in some countries and prohibit the dissection of the dead.
This trade, however, tends to attract attention of the authorities as, for example, MedCure became the subject of a US federal investigation, as in 2016 and 2017 law enforcement agents discovered infectious biological agents that cause sepsis and the life-threatening MRSA bacteria in shipments that were being returned to the company.
Also, lastly, a Detroit-based body broker named Arthur Rathburn, head of International Biological Inc, was convicted by a US court of transporting hazardous materials after the jury found him guilty of defrauding his customers by supplying body parts infected with hepatitis and HIV.
All in all, US border authorities intercepted at least 75 body part shipments suspected to be infected between 2008 and 2017, though Reuters points out that virtually all of these shipments were the remains of American donors being shipped back, as border agents "pay more attention to goods entering the country than those departing."