Over a quarter of cocaine seized in Latin American ports destined for Antwerp

Over a quarter of cocaine seized in Latin American ports destined for Antwerp
Credit: Belga

This year, an estimated 200 tonnes of cocaine destined for overseas have already been seized in Latin American Ports, 65 tonnes of which were destined for the port of Antwerp, reports Belgian newspaper Le Soir, citing statistics by the United Nations and Belgium’s FPS Finances.

The port of Antwerp, Europe’s second-largest, has long been a favourite destination for the trafficking of cocaine to Europe. Last year, Belgian customs agents seized 89 tonnes of the white powder at the port, partially as a result of Belgium’s Sky-ECC sting.

As a result of the lucrative trade, the city has witnessed an explosion in the amount of drug-related violence. In the vacuum created by the Sky-ECC bust, gangs have resorted to violence to reclaim the important cocaine market. The Antwerp drug trade has already begun to rebound, with FPS Finances noting that 72 tonnes of cocaine have already been seized in Antwerp as of 18 October.

This year, the largest quantity of cocaine intercepted abroad was in Ecuador, where 20 seizures had prevented 23.6 kilograms of cocaine from reaching Belgian shores. Other major seizures have been recorded in Panama (18.9kg), Paraguay (11.2kg), Brazil (8kg), and Colombia (5.1kg). In total, 72 seizures made in Latin America (and the U.S) were destined for Belgium.

No sign of slowing down

The data suggests that over a quarter of transatlantic cocaine shipments are now bound for Belgium. From Antwerp, these drugs are smuggled across Europe by organised criminal gangs. There is an upward trend in the share of drugs seized en route to Belgium, which has more than doubled from last year.

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According to Le Soir, international drug syndicates are conducting the export of cocaine from states less experienced in combating the drug trade, with countries such as Suriname and Guyana reporting increasing shipments. According to Van den Berghe, these countries do not have the same tools as Europe to carry out checks.

In one catch alone in 2020, Guyanese port authorities intercepted 11.5 tonnes of cocaine bound for Antwerp. The scale of the seizures being made at non-traditional export points offers a small glimpse into the scale of the international cocaine smuggling market, and even the shipments that authorities likely miss.

On 25 September, Belgian customs officials turned up one tonne of cocaine in the port of Antwerp, with a further six tonnes of cocaine being found at a quay earlier the same day from Suriname.

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