EU's Top Port States Are Building an Anti-Cocaine Alliance

Courtesy Port of Antwerp-Bruges
Courtesy Port of Antwerp-Bruges

Published May 12, 2024 9:03 PM by The Maritime Executive


The emergence of Europe as a growing and high-priced market for cocaine has forced authorities to intensify the fight against South America cartels. International organized crime syndicates use the EU's major seaports for drug trafficking at an industrial scale, as shown by an exponential increase in drug seizures at key European ports.

On May 7, Germany hosted the third ministerial meeting of the Coalition of European countries against serious and organized crime, which resolved to strengthen cooperation with South American partners to fight the growing menace of drug trafficking.

The meeting in Hamburg also explored better ways to protect European Union (EU) logistics hubs from being used as entry points for drugs originating from countries like Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The partners also want to find better ways to dismantle international criminal networks, which have turned the EU into a lucrative market for narcotics.

The meeting was convened by the European Ports Alliance, which was established in January to look for ways to fight against drug trafficking. Members include Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. It was also attended by representatives from Sweden, the European Commission, EU agencies Europol and Eurojust, World Shipping Council and South American officials.

The volume of smuggled cocaine has been rising. In 2023 alone, 44 tons of cocaine were seized in Germany, 59 tons in the Netherlands and 116 tons in Belgium. The major ports in Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg serve as the primary gateways to Europe for illegal drug imports.

Data by Germany Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland shows that in the case of Hamburg port alone, cocaine seizures have tripled over the past five years from 9.5 tons in 2019 to 40 tons last year.

“We have to make our deep sea ports so safe that they can no longer be entry points for tons of cocaine. That's why we're meeting in Hamburg today. We want to coordinate closely internationally and continue to push the fight against drug cartels,” said Nancy Faeser, German Interior Minister.

The meeting in Hamburg, which put a lot of emphasis on port security and the resilience of logistical hubs, followed a visit by Faeser to Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia in March. During that tour, agreements were reached on closer police collaborations in investigations, exchange of information, tackling corruption in ports and providing training for law enforcement. Bribery and coercion of port employees is an essential part of the smuggling process, and the alliance is putting considerable effort into countering this threat. 

Comprehensive police cooperation with all four countries aims to clamp down not only on organized crime and the narcotics trade, but also on weapons trade, human trafficking, money laundering and environmental crimes.

As part of measures to combat drug trafficking and organized crime, the EU has committed to allocate over $220 million to fund state-of-the-art equipment to help customs authorities scan containers and check imports for hidden consignments of illicit drugs.