A Danish current affairs show has claimed that several trawlers from the former Dutch island of Urk are being used to smuggle drugs into Denmark.
Researchers for the TV2 programme based their claims on interviews with Dutch and Danish police, other experts and a fisherman who comes from the Netherlands and says he was involved in smuggling cocaine into Danish North Sea ports.
The drugs, the programme said, are dumped in the North Sea from container ships from South America. Wrapped in plastic and fitted with a transmitter, they are fished out by the Dutch boats and taken into Danish ports, where they are then delivered back to the Netherlands for cutting and distribution.
The orders for the Urk fishermen, the programme said, come from drugs dealers from the Amsterdam underworld with close ties to South American drugs barons.
At least six trawlers from Urk are involved, the programme said, after observing their whereabouts using tracking signals.
The claim is not new and there have been several examples in the past of Urk trawlermen caught with drugs. But the shift to Denmark, where checks are less stringent, is a new development, Dutch criminologist Shanna Mehlbaum told the programme.
Mehlbaum was also the lead author on a Dutch police report in 2021 which warned drugs smugglers had been approaching fishing boat owners with financial problems in increasing numbers.
The researchers then spoke to 40 trawler owners based in IJmuiden, Urk and Den Oever about their experiences, but did not say how many of them had been approached by drugs gangs.
‘The first time you can say no, and that does happen,’ Mehlbaum said at the time. ‘But once you are in, you are stuck. If you refuse the next time, you can be blackmailed or threatened with violence.’
In 2018, the five-strong crew of a fishing boat from the staunchly Protestant island was jailed for up to six years for their role in a cocaine smuggling operation.
And in 2019, the government’s regional crime information unit RIEC said Urk is a hotbed of crime, with islanders involved in cocaine smuggling, money laundering and exploiting workers in the local fish processing industry.
Then in 2020, an Urk alderman resigned after his son was arrested for drugs smuggling and it emerged he too worked for his offspring’s transport company.
Urk’s mayor Cees van den Bos declined to comment on the new Danish findings but told local broadcaster Omroep Flevoland he was not immediately shocked. “As a council, we have been alert to this for some time,” he said. “It happens, and we are not going to pretend it doesn’t.”
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