Cocaine seizures in Antwerp hit record high in 2023

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Cocaine seizures at the Belgian port of Antwerp, the top gateway into Europe for mainly South American drug cartels, hit a fresh record high last year, authorities said yesterday.

Some 116 tons of cocaine were seized in Antwerp alone, Belgian Finance Minister Vincent van Peteghem told reporters, a 5 percent rise on 2022 which itself was a record figure.

The Netherlands, neighboring Belgium, and Spain are the top three European nations for illegal cocaine imports, most of it from Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

At the same news conference, Dutch officials said they had seized 59.1 tons of cocaine in 2023, also a sharp rise compared to the previous year.

Antwerp and the Dutch port of Rotterdam regularly experience gunfire and explosions linked to turf wars between powerful international drugs gangs.

The two ports were the two main entry points used by a Dubai-based “super cartel” supplying a third of Europe’s cocaine, which Europol said it busted in late 2022.

The cocaine is usually hidden in containers, or sometimes underneath ships in openings below the water line where they are then recovered by divers.

Sniffer dogs and police frogmen are deployed at the Antwerp and Rotterdam container terminals, but authorities fear they are only intercepting a fraction of illegal cargoes.

“The drug traffickers will stop at nothing and will use every mean available,” said Aukje de Vries, Dutch state secretary for customs.

“That’s why we need to do everything in our power to intercept drugs.”

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