Brussels (Agencies): In a gripping revelation, the port city of Antwerp has once again secured its position as Europe’s cocaine gateway. For the second consecutive year, authorities in Belgium have seized a staggering 116 tonnes of cocaine at the bustling port, marking a 5% increase from the previous year. However, it’s essential to recognize that only a fraction of this illicit substance—possibly as little as a tenth—gets detected upon arrival.

Why Antwerp? The sprawling port, with over 160 kilometers (100 miles) of quayside, provides an ideal conduit for the cocaine trade. The rapid conveyor belt of goods unloading from ships offers ample opportunities for the drug lords. Their favored tactic? Concealing drugs within fresh fruit crates, especially banana containers. Remarkably, these criminal enterprises anticipate that some of their shipments will be discovered, yet the astronomical profits continue to drive their operations.

The surge in illegal drug trafficking has had dire consequences for safety in Antwerp. Gangs vie for control of this highly lucrative market, resulting in spiraling violence. Families, customs workers, and dock laborers all face risks due to the colossal quantities involved.

Belgium’s northern neighbor, the Netherlands, also witnessed a significant increase in cocaine seizures, totaling 59.1 tonnes in 2023. Ecuador emerged as the primary source for cocaine seized in the Netherlands, contributing nearly 27 tonnes. Meanwhile, Panama and Colombia remain key points of origin, supplying mainly to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain.

European law enforcement agencies are collaborating to combat these criminal networks. Recent successes include cracking the encrypted platform EncroChat, which powered trafficking networks. However, the battle against powerful cartels remains an ongoing challenge.

As Antwerp grapples with its notorious title, the world watches closely, aware that beneath the bustling quays lies a hidden underworld of staggering proportions.

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