MIL-OSI Europe: Cocaine seizures by Customs see sharp rise in 2023

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Source: Government of the Netherlands

In 2023, Dutch Customs seized almost 60,000 kg of cocaine. This is a sharp increase compared to 2022, when more than 51,000 kg of cocaine was seized. The largest seizures were in the ports of Rotterdam and Vlissingen. At airports, more than twice as much cocaine was seized by Customs.

Aukje de Vries, State Secretary for Benefits and Customs: “The drug traffickers will stop at nothing and will use every means available. That’s why we need to do everything in our power to intercept drugs. In this, we’re increasingly collaborating with businesses and with other countries. The fact that this is helping Customs to intercept even more drugs is a good thing. It hits criminals where it hurts, undermining their perverse business model. This battle deserves our continued attention and investment.”

Collaboration with Belgium

The State Secretary announced the latest drug figures in Vlissingen, together with the Belgian Minister of Finance, Vincent van Peteghem. In Belgium, drug seizures amounted to a total of 116,000 kg last year. That is also more than the previous year, when 109,000 kg was seized. Dutch and Belgian Customs are collaborating intensively in their battle against drug trafficking. The Dutch Customs diving team is active in Antwerp and the two countries are jointly collaborating with Latin America. The two Customs services are also closely cooperating on automatic image recognition in scans.

Trafficking via ports

In the ports, Customs seized more than 140 consignments of cocaine last year. This is roughly the same as the year before. The average number of kilograms in each consignment has increased. Customs also found the largest ever consignment of cocaine. This was a consignment of 8,000 kg of cocaine, shipped from Ecuador to Rotterdam via Panama. The most frequent location where drugs were found was the cooling system of containers. Customs officers also regularly discovered drugs in the cargo or concealed in the structure of the container.

In Rotterdam, Customs have begun to scan more containers. Scans have increased by 40% compared to 2022. In the ports, Customs are constantly innovating to stay a step ahead of criminals, partly through the deployment of underwater robots, smart cameras and drones. With the help of a drone, Customs recently succeeded in intercepting drug smugglers on an underwater scooter.

Trafficking via air cargo

The number of kilograms of cocaine seized in air cargo has also seen a significant increase. In 2023, Customs seized almost 2,250 kg of cocaine at airfields, compared to almost 1,300 kg in 2022. There is also more intensive collaboration at airports between Customs and the business community. This includes the sharing of information about drug consignments.

Cooperation with Latin America

In contrast, countries in Latin America have seen a fall in the seizure of drugs heading to the Netherlands. In Brazil, there has been a remarkable decrease in the number of seizures of drugs destined for the Netherlands. In recent years, Dutch Customs have intensified cooperation with Customs in Brazil. Last year saw the launch of a pilot involving the sharing of scanned images. There has also been increasing cooperation with other countries, including with Customs in Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica. Liaison officers have also been posted in various Latin American countries and Customs treaties have been agreed, including with Ecuador. This will make it possible for the different Customs services to share even more valuable intelligence.

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