Officials seize eight tonnes of cocaine hidden with bananas

Part of the biggest ever cocaine seizure in the Netherlands. Photo: Public Prosecution Department

Customs officials at Rotterdam port have made their biggest ever cocaine seizure – over eight tonnes of the drug hidden in a consignment of bananas.

The drugs were discovered on July 13 but the find has only just been made public “in the interests” of the investigation into their origins, the public prosecution department said on Thursday afternoon.

Officials now say the drugs, with a street value of €600 million, came to the Netherlands from Ecuador via Panama.  The drugs were discovered by sniffer dogs and via a container scan.

The haul is almost double the previous record of 4.5 tonnes, local customs chief Peter van Buijten told broadcaster NOS.

Recent seizures at the port had been for much smaller quantities and it had appeared as if the smugglers were trying to spread their risks, he said.

Although Colombia still dominates cocaine trafficking routes from South America, Ecuador is one of the most important exporters of cocaine and the Netherlands is a major destination.

The UN’s office on drugs and crime said in a new report earlier this year that the growing prominence of Netherlands-linked routes over the past decade may have been instrumental in increasing the availability of cocaine in Europe.

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.

‘From the Netherlands, cocaine is further distributed to other European countries and Albanian-speaking groups appear to play an important role in this, in particular in trafficking towards Italy and Albania,’ the report said.

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The Netherlands has been making efforts to tackle the rise in cocaine smuggling. For example, Dutch port officials have begun working together more with South American countries where the cocaine originates and visited Ecuador earlier this year. They have also stepped up screening and counter-corruption measures among port workers.

And earlier this year, the Netherlands and Belgium enlisted the help of shipping companies to combat drug smuggling with an agreement to fit containers with a digital seal which will emit a warning signal when broken.

European policing organisation Europol said in 2021 that the increased use of shipping containers to conceal drugs had made the high volume ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg the new epicentre of the European cocaine market.

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