The port of Zeebrugge will be under heightened surveillance after authorities said a series of recent incidents suggested drug smugglers were increasingly using it as an alternative to the Port of Antwerp.
The mayor of Bruges, which manages the port of Zeebrugge, said customs authorities would carry out more checks in the port, following at least three incidents suggesting it was increasingly on drug gangs' radar.
Police recently arrested three men said to be of Spanish nationality, who were seen in the port in the middle of the night with diving equipment, De Standaard reports.
The men reportedly were not able to justify their presence at Zeebrugge under such conditions and were suspected by a court of intending to dive to recover drugs from the water.
During the autumn, a ship that left Zeebrugge in the direction of an English port was intercepted and some 200 kilograms of cocaine were found on board, Belgian media reports.
Bruges Mayor Dirk de fauw said that the most recent incident on 27 December had caught the attention of authorities since it concerned a container in Surinam which was bound for Zeebrugge, despite the fact that there is no direct line between the two ports.
"There is, however, a shipping company, CMA CGM, which sails between the Caribbean and Western Europe and occasionally picks up containers in Suriname," de fauw said. "The intercepted container in question, which was filled with bananas, bore a number indicating its direct destination was Zeebrugge."
A total of 855 kilograms of cocaine had been stashed in a concealed panel in the roof of the container when it was discovered by in Paramaribo, Surinam, leading to the arrest of at least one person.
Customs and Bruges authorities said that the incidents suggested that drug smugglers were increasingly turning to the port of Zeebrugge as a series of drug seizures, counternarcotic operations and drug-related incidents have increasingly landed the Port of Antwerp in the spotlight.
"There have been new drug lines in the direction of Zeebrugge for some time now," De fauw said, adding that investigations were underway in order to "get more insight" into drug gang operations.
De fauw said that while not many drugs had been intercepted in the port itself, customs and shipping police found drug packages in the sea, compounding rumours that smugglers were working with smaller boats who recovered drug shipments thrown overboard from larger cargo ships.
The Brussels Times