The Netherlands and Belgium are enlisting the help of shipping companies to combat drug smuggling via Rotterdam and Antwerp ports.
The mayors of the two port cities, representatives of the Dutch and Belgian governments and the five biggest shipping companies in the world are meeting on Friday to finalise a number of measures.
The shipping companies have pledged to fit containers with a digital seal which when broken will emit a warning signal. That should make it impossible to hide cocaine in containers on the journey between South America and Antwerp or Rotterdam.
People who pick up the containers will also have to identify themselves using fingerprint checks. The companies have also said they will give the authorities more information about shipping routes.
Belgian and Dutch police and customs services are already working together closely but, justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz said on current affairs show Op1, the help of the companies is needed because governments are not able to cope with the problem by themselves.
Infrastructure minister Mark Harbers said the shipping companies are aware they have a responsibility for combating drug smuggling. ‘It’s in their interest too, he said. ‘Their own staff are being recruited [by criminal gangs] and targeted as well,’ he said.
Belgian home affairs minister Annelies Verlinden said shipping companies are hard put to fill vacancies because people are afraid, and that workers in pivotal functions are often the object of threats even if they have nothing to do with any criminal network.
Police and customs officials discovered almost 47 tonnes of cocaine at Rotterdam port last year, well down on the 70 tonnes seized in 2021.
By contrast, seizures at Antwerp port reached a record 110 tonnes, compared with 90 tonnes in 2021, according to the Belgian authorities.
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