Cocaine seizures at the port of Antwerp, a major gateway for illegal drugs to Europe, set new records last year as authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands confronted violent international gangs.
Annual statistics on drug raids in Belgium and the Netherlands were released on Tuesday, a day after an 11-year-old girl was shot dead in an attack on her Antwerp home that the mayor of Antwerp said was part of an ongoing ‘war on drugs’. It was
Belgium’s main container terminal is now considered the largest route for illicit drugs to Europe, with 109.9 tonnes seized in 2022, up from 89.5 tonnes the previous year, an unknown but likely much higher figure. A lot of quantity has reached the market.
Across the Dutch border, in nearby Rotterdam and Vlissingen, Dutch police fighting the same gang seized another 52.5 tons. After Belgium and Spain, the Netherlands is her third largest pharmaceutical gateway in Europe.
The Belgian Finance Minister Vincent van Petegem, who oversees customs, and the Dutch Secretary of State Auckje de Vries revealed the figures at a press conference in Antwerp.
They welcomed the “close cooperation” between neighboring authorities and pledged to invest €70 million ($75 million) in high-tech tools, while hiring another 100 Belgian customs officers.
“For the Netherlands, spending over the next few years will be related to artificial intelligence, chemical detection and tracking containers, among others,” said the joint statement.
European police have made a number of high-profile arrests after cracking encrypted text messaging networks used by gangs, and have carried out several large-scale drug raids in recent weeks.
– “War on Drugs” –
But the amount of cocaine found in Antwerp has only increased, and explosions and shootings have occurred in the city’s neighborhoods as rival groups settle their scores.
An 11-year-old girl was killed Monday after attackers opened fire on her home. “There is a drug war going on,” Antwerp mayor Bert de Weber told local television.
Antwerp public prosecutor said five shots were fired through the garage door of a terraced house, fatally wounding a child.Cartridge casings found at the scene indicated military weapons were used rice field.
“At the time of the incident, three residents, a 58-year-old father and two daughters aged 13 and 18 who were living together, were taken to the hospital with minor injuries,” the prosecutor said.
“A murder and attempted murder investigation has been launched.”
Prosecutors say they have documented more than 200 drug-related violence cases over the past five years.
Gangs, including the so-called “Moklo Mafia”, which emerged from the Dutch Moroccan community, have become more brazen in recent years.
Security in the area was increased after four Dutch suspects were arrested last September in connection with the attempted kidnapping of Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.
Sniffer dogs and police frogmen are stationed at container terminals in Antwerp and Rotterdam, but authorities fear only 10% of illegal cargo is intercepted.
In a separate announcement in the Netherlands, Dutch authorities revealed a market value of €3.5 billion for drugs seized in Dutch ports in 2022.
“We have nearly 50 tonnes of cocaine seized at the port of Rotterdam, less than when we seized 70 tonnes last year,” Rotterdam customs chief Jan Kampf told reporters.
“But if you look at the overall figures together with the port of Antwerp, we see that we have seized the same amount of kilograms as in 1921. So in all, about 160 tonnes.”
“We may see a shift from Rotterdam to Antwerp. That could be one of the conclusions.”
– “Daily Shooting” –
In Rotterdam, seizures fell to 46.8 tonnes in 2022, compared to 72.8 tonnes the previous year, while in tiny Vlissingen, just across the Scheldt estuary from Antwerp, they were down to 2,100 kilograms in 2021. In 2022, 4,157 kg will be seized.
According to city prosecutor Hugo Hillenaar, drug-related violence is rampant in Dutch ports.
“In Rotterdam, there are shootings on a daily basis: shooting at each other, shooting at houses, planting explosives in houses and threatening them,” Hillenaar said.
Smugglers to the Netherlands appear to be splitting their shipments into smaller packages, presumably to spread the risk of interception, but the largest seizure was a 2.8-tonne batch of frozen fish from Ecuador.
Cocaine is one of organized crime’s biggest moneymakers. The European drug watchdog estimated that the EU’s retail cocaine market would be worth between €7.7 billion and €10.5 billion in 2020.
https://www.expatica.com/nl/general/record-cocaine-seizures-in-antwerp-as-belgium-battles-drug-gangs-490155/ Antwerp records cocaine seizure as Belgium fights drug cartel