Drug trade eyeing smaller ports, customs office warns

An earlier cocaine haul in Vlissingen. Photo: Politie Zeeland-West-Brabant

Vlissingen is becoming a port of choice for cocaine smuggling as officials intercept more drugs in shipping containers, according to customs figures.

Customs investigators have intercepted 30 tonnes of cocaine so far this year, a third more than in the same period in 2022. Some 4.5 tonnes of cocaine were discovered at the Zeeland port of Vlissingen, which is more than was found there during the whole of 2022.

Some 31 youths employed by criminals to remove the drugs from the containers have also been arrested at the port since January.

“Those are significant numbers for such a small port,” customs official Christ Mels told broadcaster NOS. Most of the arrested youths were not local but came from other parts of the country, he said.

“We are seeing a shift away from Rotterdam and Antwerp to smaller ports like Vlissingen,” Mels said. Officials also say criminals are spreading their risks by smuggling smaller quantities, although just recently the port of Rotterdam clocked up the biggest haul so far this year at 3.6 tonnes.

Vlissingen now has its own port police. A team of 25 detectives, police officers and intelligence analysts will be monitoring the ports of Vlissingen, Borsele, Terneuzen and Moerdijk but, district police chief  Joost Manusama warned, at least double the number of officials will be needed to combat drug crime at the ports effectively.

The government has earmarked an extra €4 million to combat crime in ports, of which €1.2 million has been allocated to the port police. The rest of the money will go to more camera surveillance, higher security gates, biometric entry systems and training to arm port workers against criminal influence.

“Criminals are constantly looking at companies where it might be useful for them to have accomplices,” Vlissingen team chief Eric Nagelkerke said. Several port workers have been found to have been bribed into cooperating with drug smuggling gangs in the last few years, he said.

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