Ports in Belgium and the Netherlands, Europe’s ‘Cocaine Superhighway,’ Tackle Drug Problem

Authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands are attempting to thwart rampant drug trade at ports.

The ports in Antwerp, Belgium and several cities in The Netherlands are fighting to curb the illicit trade of cocaine, which is seeing somewhat of a heyday in recent years. Criminals are allegedly smuggling cocaine on shipping containers, often disguised as fruit or other goods.

To keep up with the extremely high demand for cocaine in Europe, ports in Belgium and The Netherlands, Europe’s “cocaine superhighway,” have stepped up security, Bloomberg reported Monday. Cocaine is the second most commonly used illicit drug in Europe (after cannabis, of course) according to the European Drug Report 2023.

Dutch authorities say they have been intercepting an increasing amount of cocaine in recent years. Seizures jumped 18% to 60,000 kilograms of cocaine in 2023 from a year earlier, according to the Netherlands’ customs data. 

According to findings published March 20 by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) and SCORE group, a sewage analysis spanning across Europe identified Antwerp as the cocaine capital of Europe, and it has been for several years.

Politico reports that Antwerp was once again Europe’s cocaine capital where consumption is highest per capita, according to EMCDDA’s findings, with 1,721 milligrams detected per 1,000 people per day, a slight decrease from 2022 but still enough to top the list. Five cities from the Netherlands also made it into the top 10. Three of those Dutch ports in the top 10—Amsterdam, Leeuwarden, and Rotterdam—are home to large port destinations.

Data from 2023 indicated that Antwerp set a record of 116 tons of cocaine seized, breaking the previous record of 110 set in 2022. Eight tons of the cocaine was confiscated in a single bust on a freight vessel.

“The fight against international drug trafficking requires a lot of expertise and energy from our customs,” said Vincent Van Peteghem, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. “I can only emphasize my great thanks and pride for that. Especially since this fight is just one of the many components of customs’ remit. Thousands of employees, spread all over the country, gave their best in once again extraordinary circumstances last year. And while this may officially be the last presentation of annual figures of this legislature, it remains my goal to continue on the path we have taken. We have increased investment in people and resources in recent years for the first time in a long time and we will continue to do so. It remains my conviction to support and strengthen customs and customs officers.”

Franky De Keyzer, chief of the city’s public prosecutor’s office, said last week that Dutch criminals had overrun the port of Antwerp. Teens are allegedly paid to retrieve shipments of coke in Antwerp and Rotterdam, local reports indicate.

The report analyzed wastewater in 88 cities in 23 countries in the European Union as well as Turkey, home to some 55.6 million people, and researchers found a rise in cocaine consumption, followed by ketamine and MDMA. The prevalence of amphetamines and cannabis were less clear.

Drugs Destined for the Netherlands

Seizures of cocaine in Dutch ports are skyrocketing, with the nation’s largest busts ever taking place over the past few years. It’s alarming enough to prompt authorities to try new tactics.

In August 2023, Dutch customs officials announced they had seized eight tons of cocaine on a Maersk container ship during a routine check, after drug-sniffing dogs alerted them on July 13. The ship originated in Ecuador and docked at the port of Rotterdam, where port authorities found the drugs hidden inside pallets with bananas.

According to Dutch customs authorities, the cocaine estimated value is €600 million (about $662 million USD). Officials found and confiscated over 8,000 kilograms (17,600 pounds) of cocaine at the bust. It represents 23 times more than all the cocaine seized in Denmark in 2022, according to national police records from the Special Crime Unit, and was a record bust for the country.

Drug traffickers are also sending drugs to the Netherlands via airplane as well. Six bags containing 250 grams of cocaine, destined for The Netherlands, were seized by the Dominican Republic’s National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) at the Las Américas International Airport just last Sunday. 

A drug-sniffing dog signaled the presence of controlled substances inside a box loaded with computer video cards, and a search revealed 250 grams of cocaine hidden in six envelopes.

DNCD said that a shipping manifest showed the package was allegedly sent by a woman with an address in Ciudad Juan Bosch, Las Flores and would be received by a person with residence in Rousseaustraat, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

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