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Case Studies

Cocaine in containers

Containerised shipments of cocaine are entering Europe through the high-volume ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, says a report Cocaine Insights by the European Union’s policing agency Europol.

The booming cocaine market – made in South America, consumed in North America and Europe – has meant more assassinations, shootings, bombings, arsons, kidnappings, torture and intimidation related to the trade in cocaine. The nature of the violence appears to have changed. More criminal networks use violence in a more offensive way, according to the report. The report adds that in the UK “crack” cocaine is one of the drug types (alongside heroin) most strongly associated with the “county lines” trafficking method.

Cocaine use in Europe can only be expected to grow, the report predicts: “Demand reduction programmes need to consider the ongoing increases in the availability of cocaine.”

The dynamics of diversification and proliferation of cocaine supply channels, criminal actors and modalities are likely to continue, if left unchecked, the report warns. In addition to relatively high wholesale prices for cocaine in European destination countries, repeated interdiction along the route from South to North America may merely have contributed to rendering trafficking channels to Europe the path of least resistance, says the report.

“While the Iberian Peninsula, in particular the Galician coast in northwestern Spain, has long accounted for an important share of cocaine reaching Europe, seizure data point to an increase in the relative importance of quantities entering through Belgium, notably through Antwerp.” Indeed, the entry point for the drug into Europe has shifted, to the container ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg. Cocaine seizures in Antwerp continue to increase overall, reaching at least 65.6 tons in 2020.

Cocaine achieves very high prices in Europe compared to most other regions, which implies significant profit margins, the report points out.

The report describes how in August 2020, the Dutch police dismantled a laboratory equipped to extract very large quantities of cocaine from carrier material. The facility in a former riding school outside Amsterdam was estimated to have the capacity to yield 150-200 kg of cocaine a day. Albanian, Belgian, British, Dutch, French, Irish, Moroccan, Serbian, Spanish and Turkish drug traffickers share the market.

As for the surge in the market, despite multi-ton seizures by the authorities, it’s supply-driven, according to the report, jointly by Europol and the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); the international community and the national governments must intensify their efforts to address the driving factors behind coca bush cultivation and the related illicit economy in the source countries, by means of alternative development, it’s argued.

You can download the 28-page report at the Europol website:


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