Brussel: Belgian authorities said they had seized a record haul of more than 50 tonnes of cocaine at the port of Antwerp in 2018.
Antwerp, Europe’s second busiest cargo port after Rotterdam, has boomed in importance to the drug trade in recent years and is now considered the continent’s main entry point for South American cocaine.
The Belgian finance ministry said customs officers in Antwerp intercepted 50.1 tonnes of the drug in 2018 – a 22% rise on 2017 and more than six times the quantity netted in 2014.
For comparison, just 71 tonnes were seized in the whole of the EU in 2016.
Finance Minister Alexander De Croo said the record haul showed that Belgium’s efforts to tackle smuggling were paying off.
“The reinforcement of the drugs team and extra investment in scanners are clearly bearing fruit – customs are intercepting more and more drugs and this is a good thing,” he said in a statement.
Cocaine seizures at Antwerp have soared in recent years and in 2016 Belgium overtook Spain as the EU country reporting the biggest annual seizures of the drug.
The main countries of origin for the 2018 seizures at Antwerp – which had a total street value of around €2.5bn (about R40bn) according to the Belgian authorities – were Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Surinam, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica and Panama.
Most of the consignments were hidden among legitimate cargo, switched by smugglers’ accomplices onto unchecked shipping containers, disguised as innocuous goods or concealed in the structure of containers themselves.
The EU’s drugs agency estimated the retail cocaine market across the bloc’s 28 countries to be worth at least €5.7bn (about R90bn) in 2013.