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Mega-Bust Points to Spain as Europe’s Emerging Cocaine Gateway

Experts are saying that the latest mega-bust points to Spain as Europe’s emerging cocaine gateway.

Bill Weinberg

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Mega-Bust Points to Spain as Europe's Emerging Cocaine Gateway

A mega-bust points to Spain as Europe’s emerging cocaine gateway. The country made unwanted international headlines this month, when Spanish customs officers seized nearly four metric tons of cocaine in the Atlantic.

Cocaine Country?

The Spanish customs officers seized cocaine headed for the Iberian Peninsula that boasted an estimated $260 million market value.

They found the haul on a tugboat between Portugal’s Madeira and Azores islands. There were 165 packages of cocaine. And furthermore, each weighed 23 kilograms. For those not familiar with the metric system, this equals a total of 3.7 tons.

Additionally, the ship’s crew had concealed the packages of cocaine beneath the vessel’s cooking area. The operation was joint effort conducted with UK’s National Crime Agency under the coordination of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre-Narcotics (MAOC-N) in Lisbon. Finally, together, they arrested the crew, whose members hailed from Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Afterwards, the authorities issued the usual triumphalist rhetoric.

“Seizing this quantity of cocaine represents a major disruption to international crime groups, depriving them of revenue potentially running into the hundreds of millions of pounds,” NCA spokesman Mark Blackwell then told the BBC.

But this was not the first sign that Spain is now serving as the principal transfer point for cocaine headed for the continent from South America.

Here’s a quick history factoid. Spain is the longtime European gateway for Moroccan hashish. It also looks like connections established between Spanish and Moroccan networks to move hashish may now be serving to smuggle coke.

Final Hit: Mega-Bust Points to Spain as Europe’s Emerging Cocaine Gateway

On October 4, authorities in Morocco announced that 13 Spanish citizens of Moroccan origin had been arrested over a record seizure of cocaine.

Police seized over 2.5 tons in the bust in the country’s south. They say that they believe it landed by boat from Venezuela. And that the crew had steered it for Europe. The suspected masterminds of the operation are two Dutch citizens of Moroccan origin. They are currently serving sentences over a 2014 drug bust in Marrakesh, said Abdelhak Khiam, the head of Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations. 

“The networks of the South American drug cartels are currently trying to make use of the African route, via the countries south of Sahara where there is little control,” Khiam told a press conference.

And the hashish busts, of course, go on.

In early August, forces of the Spanish Tax Agency intercepted 600 bales—or 18 tons—of hash from a vessel east of the Strait of Gibraltar in the Alboran Sea, Maritime Bulletin reported. Officers subsequently seized the vessel and took it to Almeira, Spain. In the case of this particular bust, Ukrainian and Bulgarian nationals crewed the ship. The authorities placed them under arrest.

So does it stand that the mega-bust points to Spain as Europe’s emerging cocaine gateway? Maybe. We’ll let you know if there are any more particularly interesting busts.

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