Hit on drug trafficking: Belgium seizes the largest cocaine shipment in European history

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There were more than 11 tons of cocaine that arrived at the port of Antwerp, on a ship that supposedly carried iron and had left Guaya, in South America.

The Belgian police and customs services seized days ago – it was learned this Thursday – the largest shipment of cocaine in the history of Europe. Five containers that traveled in a freighter from Guaya, in South America, to the port of Antwerp, turned out not to carry the iron load that they had declared. Inside, each one carried another, somewhat smaller container loaded with cocaine in pure state. In total, they were almost 11.5 tons.

That amount of drug has a market value of 450 million euros, which once cut and put on the street would be worth between 900 and 1,000 million euros, almost 1,100 million dollars.

Due to its origin, the Belgian authorities suspect that it is a large shipment of cocaine from some Colombian, Brazilian or Venezuelan drug trafficking group that would have spread across Europe.

The stash is the largest in the history of Europe and globally there is only a record of two majors, one in the United States and the other in Colombia.

Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe by volume of import of goods, only surpassed by its neighbor Rotterdam, which is a few tens of kilometers away. Together with Zeebrugge, also in Belgium, they form an almost uninterrupted continuum of docks that in practice function almost like a megaport, the largest on the European continent.

In recent years, the Belgian media has accumulated complaints about the porosity of the port of Antwerp as a point of entry for drugs into Europe. Such was the sieve that Belgium surpassed Spain years ago as first destination of Latin American drugs sent to Europe.

The containers were first unloaded at the port of Zeebrugge and transported to the port of Antwerp for an inspection that had to be routine until the scanner detected something unusual. Upon opening them, behind a small layer of twisted old iron, the Belgian customs officials discovered that each container contained a slightly smaller one made of steel. They were custom made to fit inside the usual cargo container.

The final destination of the containers was a Dutch company based a few kilometers after the Belgian border.

The complaint by the customs officers to the Belgian Police also activated the Dutch. The operation served to arrest three people, two in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. The Belgian Flemish newspaper ‘De Standaard’ says that the operation is part of a larger one, which had police operations in September and October.

In those raids 22 people were arrested and more than three million euros in cash were seized. Among those arrested at the time were a former head of the Belgian gendarmerie (now disbanded body) and three police officers. The gang was unable to prevent these containers from being discovered because the freighter had set sail when the detentions occurred in October.

During interrogations, several of the detainees confessed that they had contacts with officials from the Belgian and Dutch anti-drug services. The Prosecutor’s Office believes that this was the last of many other drug shipments.

Antwerp’s position as a gateway to Europe for much of Latin America’s drugs is turning the region around the port into an increasingly common setting for violent crimes such as kidnappings and incidents with long weapons and even with grenades.

Belgium is also a key point in the European distribution of illegal weapons that are brought from the former Soviet republics and from the Balkan countries. In September, dozens of people, including an active Brussels Police Chief, were arrested in a raid against illegal arms trafficking.

The Limburg region, which jumps from Belgium to the Netherlands, is home to a large part of the illegal drug laboratories present in Europe. They cut drugs like cocaine but they also produce synthetic drugs.

The cache seized by the Belgian Police competes with the largest in history. Last July, the US Coast Guard removed dozens of bales from the sea, totaling 13 tons of cocaine that had been thrown into the sea by a speedboat that had been discovered.

Ecuador discovered in 2016 the smuggling of 12 tons of cocaine that were in a shipment of salt destined precisely for Belgium. Nigeria seized 14.2 tons of cocaine in 2006 and the US Coast Guard seized 19 tons on a Panamanian-flagged vessel in 2007.

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