Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Cocaine seizures at Dutch ports decline as northwest European entry points become ‘less attractive’ to traffickers

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Cocaine seizures at ports in the Netherlands have fallen by 42 per cent in the first half of 2024 as a result of what Dutch authorities say is a disruptive strategy to make northwest European entry points “less attractive” to traffickers.

Figures from the customs authorities show that while cocaine seizures in the first half of 2023 totalled 28 tonnes, the equivalent figure for the same period this year was 16 tonnes, a dramatic reduction they attribute primarily to better co-operation with their counterparts in Latin America.

Because they are half-year only the figures do not yet indicate a reversal of the upward annual trend which showed 60 tonnes seized during the 12 months of 2023, compared with 51 tonnes for the full year of 2022. However, the customs department said they showed that “new barriers” – including the appointment of liaison officers in Latin America, the deployment of specialist teams, and the use of drones, scanners, and unspecified AI “innovations” – “appear to be having an effect.”

They same “decreasing trend” was also starting to emerge in the larger northwest European ports, which include Antwerp and Hamburg, said the customs assessment, issued through the Dutch government information service.

Last month Dutch officers played a key role in a German operation to arrest a gang responsible for smuggling 35 tonnes of cocaine mainly through Hamburg, but also Rotterdam and Antwerp, in what police in Berlin said was the biggest cocaine seizure in the country’s history. Significantly, law enforcement agencies in Colombia, Paraguay and Ecuador were also involved.

“The picture is more mixed in southern Europe,” the Dutch customs report said. Pressure on cocaine exports from Latin America meant there had been a significant increase in seizures in warehouses where the drugs were already stored, and fewer seizures at sea.

In addition, cocaine arriving from “transit ports” outside Latin America is increasingly being intercepted. Some 720kg of cocaine was seized from air freight in the first half of 2024 as against 680kg in the first half of 2023, including 60kg of the drug in sports bags sent by container from Canada.

While cocaine seizures have been falling, hauls of other drugs have increased. Customs officers confiscated some 367kg of heroin in the first half of 2024 compared to just 5kg in the first half last year. More notably, 1120kg of khat – a flowering plant native to eastern Africa which is chewed as a stimulant and induces psychological dependence – was found in the first six months of 2024, roughly three times as much as last year.

Khat was banned in the Netherlands in 2013. Within two years its street price had increased ten-fold, said a study in 2017.

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