European ports join forces to combat drugs trafficking


Rotterdam is among some 20 ports taking part in the European Ports Alliance, an EU initiative launched on Wednesday in Antwerp to fight drugs trafficking.

The initiative will see Europol, the EU law enforcement agency based in The Hague, other EU agencies, as well as representatives from customs, law enforcement authorities and port operators across Europe working together “to protect ports from drug trafficking and criminal infiltration”.

The European Commission will also allocate more than €200 million to fund equipment to help customs authorities scan containers.

Gdansk in Poland, Trieste in Italy, Varna in Bulgaria and Barcelona and Algeciras in Spain are among those taking part.

The European Commission said recent months have seen an “unprecedented” increase in drugs arriving in Europe, in particular cocaine from South America, with seizures hitting record levels. Some 500 tonnes of drugs were seized by EU customs in 2022 and 70% of seizures are made in ports.

“Year on year law enforcement are breaking new records,” said EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson at the launch. She referred in her speech to the eight tonnes of cocaine seized in a single bust at the port of Rotterdam last summer. That was surpassed by the of 9.5 tonnes of cocaine found in Algeciras.

“But while police and customs are cracking down, prices are not going up. Cocaine seems immune to inflation, showing that the flow of drugs is only increasing. There is more cocaine on the European market than ever before,” Johansson said.

“We are teaming up, to stop the criminal groups infiltrating our ports with bribery and corruption and threats. Because it’s very difficult for people to get into the harbour to get the drugs out of the container. For that, they need inside help,” she added.

The EU Commissioner also said “cooperation between national and EU authorities and EU ports is vital” as “successes against criminals in one port alone will only mean criminals move to other ports”.

“We already see this happening. After successful clampdowns in Rotterdam we see drugs turning up in other ports. And there’s a danger smaller ports will be targeted, too,” she continued.

Johansson warned “the violent consequences of drug trafficking are as big as the threat of terrorism.”

“Some 50% of the homicides in the EU are related to drug trafficking,” she said at the event. “There were more than 600 explosions in the Netherlands last year, three times as many as the year before. The largest number of explosions in Rotterdam. Also one of Europe’s greatest ports… Imagine those were terrorist shootings… society would demand action.”

Cocaine in the Netherlands

Dutch customs officials seized almost 60 tonnes of cocaine at ports and airports last year, some nine tonnes up on 2022. Most of the drugs were found at Rotterdam and Vlissingen ports where officials found 140 separate consignments.

The figures were announced by customs minister Aukje de Vries during a visit to Vlissingen together with Belgium’s finance minister Vincent van Peteghem earlier this month. In Belgium, officials seized 116 tonnes of cocaine, up slightly on the previous year.

“Drug smugglers are ruthless and will use any means possible,” De Vries said. “We have to do everything we can to intercept the drugs and are working together with companies and other countries in this regard… This fight continues to require constant attention and investment.”

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