A record 160 tonnes of cocaine were seized in 2022 in the two major European ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam combined, their customs authorities announced on Tuesday.
Antwerp in Belgium accounted for the far larger part of the haul, with 110 tonnes intercepted. Dutch customs got their hands on the remaining 50 tonnes of the stuff in Rotterdam, officials said in a joint news conference.
This record seizure provides proof that cooperation and information exchange bear fruit, declared Belgium’s deputy prime minister Vincent Van Peterghem and Aujke de Vries, Dutch secretary of state for customs.
According to data presented by the two policymakers and cited by French newspaper Le Monde, Antwerp saw a sharp increase in cocaine seizures from 2021 when just 89.5 tonnes of illicit substance were seized.
Drug shipments in Antwerp accelerated, particularly in autumn ahead of the Christmas holidays — a period customs official are habitually referring to as “White Christmas”, according to Le Monde.
In mid-October, customs seized a single haul of six tonnes of cocaine shipped to Antwerp in a container from Surinam.
Rotterdam, by contrast, saw its haul of the drug shrink by a quarter over the same period, from 70 tonnes in 2021.
Seaborne drug trafficking made headlines again last month, when Bloomberg news agency revisited the well-known case of a smuggling network that made use of Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) infrastructure.
“The consequences of the criminal drug business extend well beyond ports. Criminals become increasingly merciless and the consequences make themselves felt in the two countries with shootouts and murders in the middle of the street,” de Vries said.
The Low Countries have therefore pledged to boost the drug-busting capacities from next year.
On the Belgian side, Antwerp will hire 108 people and buy new gear to scan containers more thoroughly.
Dutch customs put the emphasis on investing in artificial intelligence, chemical detection, container tracing and “the creation of technical barriers”.
“Every investment is to the benefit of the two countries because together we’re strong,” Van Peterghem and de Vries said in a joint statement.