Largest drug bust sees 18,000 pounds of cocaine seized in the Netherlands

Largest drug bust seizes 18,000 pounds of cocaine in the Netherlands

Dutch Customs agents in the Netherlands have seized the largest haul of cocaine to ever go through the Port of Rotterdam weighing up to 17,600 pounds.

The drugs were discovered by sniffer dogs who had found them concealed inside 12 pallets of banana crates, as announced by authorities on 8 August.

The presence of drugs was, however, confirmed on 13 July yet authorities refrained from releasing information to the public due to the ongoing investigation regarding the shipment, reported CBS News.

The drugs arrived at Rotterdam after traversing through the drought-stricken Panama Canal from Ecuador. No arrests have yet been made for the drugs, worth up to $660 million, which have since been destroyed, Reuters reported on 10 August.

According to port statistics, Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, handled over 220 million tonnes of cargo in its terminals during the first half of 2023. However, in recent years the ports has suffered increasing cases of organised crime, particularly in the smuggling of substantial cocaine and drug shipments.

From 2017 onwards, a notable surge in cocaine confiscations has occurred in European regions, notably within the ports of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain as per the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, CBS News reported.

These three countries’ ports contribute to over 70 per cent of the total cocaine seizures within Europe. The centre has pinpointed corruption, especially along maritime routes, as a significant and concerning risk factor in this scenario.

In February, the seaports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, along with five multinational shipping companies, unveiled plans to implement smart containers equipped with alarm functionalities. They also aimed to enhance employee screening procedures as part of their strategy to reduce smuggling activities.

Additionally, the two countries planned to share information and collaborate in establishing “international security standards to combat crime and global drug smuggling,” reported CBS News.

READ: TT Club commits to countering drug trafficking efforts

In a past statement, Aukje De Vries, Netherlands Benefits and Customs State Secretary said: “The record seizures in the harbours of Rotterdam and Antwerp are illustrative of the size of the drug smuggling problem in both countries.” He added that Belgium and the Netherlands are closely cooperating to “obtain and study radiographic images from Latin America”.

Drug trafficking and contraband in general, has been a primordial issue for the maritime industry. With an unprecedented volume of ships moving around the world at an almost unrelenting rate, the challenge of policing and screening what gets loaded on to a ship is one of the industry’s biggest Achilles heels.

A few of the recent instances of drug busts include the interception of the MSC Gayane at the Port of Philadelphia. US Customs and Border Protection found cocaine-made bricks that weighed up to 20 tonnes with an estimated value of $1.3 billion. This was the largest drug seizure in the history of the US customs agency.

This drug bust had led to Bloomberg reporting on how MSC had “become a major drug-trafficking route for Balkan gangs,” as several members of the MSC Gayane crew were found guilty in connection with the operation.

MSC later released a statement addressing and vehemently rejecting the accusations made by Bloomberg, stating that: “MSC strongly objects to Bloomberg’s headline claim that the subversion of a small number of seafarers from Montenegro, in what remain very specific circumstances, amounts to the ‘company’ being ‘infiltrated’ by a drugs cartel.”

Additionally, earlier this year, an MSC containership that was part of a fake bomb threat investigation outside the Port of Antwerp had been discovered to have smuggled 2.4 tonnes of cocaine hidden inside a cocoa container.

More recently, TT Club unveiled a dramatic year-on-year increase in freight crime in Chile. They found that, following the easing of COVID related restrictions, levels of crime sprung back with vengeance to 27 per cent higher in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Logistics Association of Chile (ALOG) data.  

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