European Union Launches Maritime Offensive Against Soaring Cocaine Trafficking

Belgium Takes Charge in Presiding Over European Ports Alliance Public Private Partnership to Combat Drug Cartels in Key Ports.

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With Belgium assuming the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, the government has swiftly undertaken a pivotal initiative in the ongoing battle against drug cartels operating within the ports across the European continent. Antwerp, recognized as the epicenter of cocaine trades, has prompted a proactive response from the European Union, port authorities, and various associations, including Europol, customs, and law enforcement authorities. Together, they officially launched the European Ports Alliance Public Private Partnership, a concerted effort to unite relevant stakeholders and devise comprehensive solutions aimed at safeguarding ports from drug trafficking and criminal infiltration.Paolo Gentiloni, the EU’s Commissioner for Economy, acknowledged the severity of the drug problem in Europe, emphasizing the worsening situation. He asserted, “To tackle the growing inflows of cocaine and other illicit substances into the EU, we need customs, law enforcement, and port authorities to work more closely and more effectively together.”The EU has witnessed a surge in cocaine seizures, reaching record levels exceeding 300 tonnes annually. In Belgium, authorities seized an unprecedented 121 metric tonnes of cocaine at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in 2023, representing a 10% increase from the previous year.The European Ports Alliance’s primary objectives include mobilizing the customs community against drug trafficking to enhance risk management and implement more targeted and effective controls within ports. Additionally, it aims to bolster law enforcement operations in ports, targeting the criminal organizations orchestrating drug trafficking. The alliance receives support from Europol, Eurojust, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats.A crucial aspect of this initiative involves establishing a public-private partnership to aid port authorities and private shipping companies in their roles in combatting drug trafficking and criminal infiltration. This partnership will focus on identifying vulnerabilities, sharing best practices, and implementing practical solutions to fortify port security, addressing issues such as intimidation, corruption, and criminal infiltration through the adoption of international and EU security standards. Effective cooperation between law enforcement, customs, and both public and private operators within the ports is deemed essential.Ylva Johansson, the EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, emphasized the necessity of building a network to counter organized crime’s adeptness at shifting operations between ports. She highlighted the significant consequences of drug trafficking, equating it to the threat posed by terrorism.Following the launch event, the European Ports Alliance Public Private Partnership will convene annually at the ministerial level to identify challenges, set strategic priorities, and exchange progress updates. Senior official meetings will also take place to prepare and follow up on priorities established during the annual ministerial meetings.According to the International Chamber of Shipping, nearly 90% of all cocaine, 45% of all cannabis, and 30% of all amphetamine-type stimulants are trafficked by sea. The maritime sector’s pivotal role in this criminal activity underscores the urgency of collaborative and comprehensive measures to address and mitigate the challenges posed by drug cartels in European ports.

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