Cocaine seizures reach new record; 68 tonnes found at ports this year

Cocaine seized in Rotterdam. Photo: Public Prosecution Department
Cocaine seized in Rotterdam. Photo: Public Prosecution Department

Customs officials and police have seized 68 tonnes of cocaine at Dutch ports and airports so far this year, well above last year’s record of nearly 50 tonnes.

Most of the drugs were found in containers at Rotterdam port. ‘What surprises us is the enormous increase in big shipments,’ customs chief Nanette van Schelven told broadcaster NOS.

This year at least nine shipments totalling over a 1,000 kilos were found. The biggest was that of 4.2 tonnes of cocaine, hidden in sacks of soy beans and spread across two containers.

More drugs are being found because teams can better estimate which containers are likely to be at risk. Drones and diving teams are also being used in an effort to trace shipments, she said.

More than 400 people were also arrested at the port who were waiting to move shipments to new locations. Last year, 281 people were caught trying to move drugs.


More cocaine was also moved on cargo flights via Schiphol airport. In 2020 700 kilos of cocaine was seized at the airport, but that had risen to 1,800 kilos this year. Some 500 kilos was also found in passengers’ bags.

Postal companies also found 13,000 letters containing drugs, mainly ecstasy and ketamine – triple the 2020 total. The customs department has brought in extra people to check on drugs by post.

In September, European policing organisation Europol published a report saying the increased use of shipping containers to conceal drugs has made the high volume ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg the new epicentre of the European cocaine market.

While Antwerp is the biggest arrival port for cocaine, most of the drug is ‘is likely intended for organisations operating out of the Netherlands, from where the cocaine is further distributed to other European destinations, Europol said.

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