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North Sea ports – the new way in for cocaine smugglers

The North Sea ports have recently become the choice destinations for cocaine smugglers. The smuggling points of arrival in Europe have undergone change, with Belgium and the Netherlands now eclipsing the Iberian peninsula as the main hub.

The growing prominence of Netherlands-linked routes over the past decade, and the more recent rise to prominence of the Southern Cone route, may have been instrumental in increasing the availability of cocaine in Europe

“North Sea ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg have eclipsed previous import destinations Spain and Portugal,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported in Vienna on Thursday.

There has been an over 35 percent increase in coca cultivation after a pandemic-induced decline last year. The area for coca cultivation in South America has seen expansion by at least 300,000 hectares.

The production increase was the result of expansion with the cultivation of coca bush, as well as improvements that came about in converting coca into powdered cocaine, the report found.

The report further shows how the demand for cocaine has increased over the past decade worldwide. A smuggling route through the North Sea may have contributed to the greater spread of cocaine seen in Europe. “Decades ago, smugglers of Albanian origin started buying the commodity directly in South America and from there they shipped it to Belgium and the Netherlands,” experts add.

Cocaine production is at its highest level on record, UN says

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The report also noted how traffickers were using international postal services more than before to get drugs to consumers.

“Globally, the use of parcel and courier services increased significantly during the Covid-related lockdown due to restrictions on passenger flights,” the Global Report on Cocaine report said.

Antwerp authorities seized 89.5 tons of cocaine in 2021, while 70.6 tons were seized in Rotterdam. While the amount of drugs seized in both Dutch cities increased slightly in 2021, the amount has increased sharply in German ports (Hamburg and Bremen). In Hamburg, a record 19 tons of cocaine were seized in 2021; whereas in 2022 it was 6 tons.

Overall, the report found that Europe and North America are the largest markets for cocaine, followed by South and Central America and the Caribbean.

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