Law enforcement officials in Uruguay last week said they busted an international drug ring that had a gnarly way of smuggling its contraband: inside surfboards.
The BBC reports that Uruguayan police have arrested three Italians with the “help from counter-narcotics police in Spain, Portugal and Italy.”
“Sniffer dogs had alerted officers in Uruguay to six surfboards containing a total of 50kg (110lb) of cocaine,” according to the outlet. “Police allowed one board to be dispatched in order to track down those receiving it.”
“The dogs alerted their handlers to the suspicious package on 23 May. Officers said the boards were uncharacteristically heavy and when they passed them through a scanner, they spotted hidden packages inside. A photo supplied by Uruguay’s interior ministry shows white powder spilling from one of the boards after it had been cut open. Two Italian nationals were arrested by police in Portugal as they went to pick up the cocaine-filled surfboard which police had allowed through. A third Italian citizen, who police say dispatched the drugs from Uruguay to Europe, was detained in Italy.”
A report earlier this year from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that cocaine production has surged to record highs.
The report said that while drug markets were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, “the most recent data suggests this slump has had little impact on longer-term trends.”
“The global supply of cocaine is at record levels. Almost 2,000 tons was produced in 2020, continuing a dramatic uptick in manufacture that began in 2014, when the total was less than half of today’s levels,” according to the UN report.
The report said that the cocaine “surge is partly a result of an expansion in coca bush cultivation, which doubled between 2013 and 2017, hit a peak in 2018, and rose sharply again in 2021.”
“But it is also due to improvements in the process of conversion from coca bush to cocaine hydrochloride. In parallel, there has been a continuing growth in demand, with most regions showing steadily rising numbers of users over the past decade. Although these increases can be partly explained by population growth, there is also a rising prevalence of cocaine use. Interceptions by law enforcement have also been on the rise, at a higher speed than production, meaning that interdiction has contained the growth of the global amount of cocaine available for consumption,” according to the report.
The BBC reported that drug traffickers “are increasingly using Uruguay, which borders Brazil and Argentina, as a transit country to ship drugs from drug-producing parts of South America to Europe.”
Earlier this year, authorities in New Zealand seized more than $300 million worth of cocaine afloat in the Pacific Ocean, calling it a “major financial blow” to traffickers.
According to New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, it was “one of the single biggest seizures of illegal drugs by authorities in this country.”
“There is no doubt this discovery lands a major financial blow right from the South American producers through to the distributors of this product,” Coster said. “While this disrupts the syndicate’s operations, we remain vigilant given the lengths we know these groups will go to circumvent coming to law enforcement’s attention.”
New Zealand Customs Service Acting Comptroller Bill Perry said the bust was “a huge illustration of what lengths organi[z]ed crime will go to with their global drug trafficking operations and shows that we are not exempt from major organi[z]ed criminal drug smuggling efforts in this part of the world.”