Record cocaine hauls in Europe as 'big party' predicted post Covid vaccinations

'Dramatic' increase in purity of cocaine on the streets in the last ten years, analyst says
Record cocaine hauls in Europe as 'big party' predicted post Covid vaccinations

Covid-19 had “very little impact” on cocaine supply and may have “even helped”, one expert has said.

Seizures of cocaine in Europe have continued to break records over the last two years, according to updates from the EU drugs agency.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said this was true for both the volume of cocaine seized and the number of seizures, with Covid-19 restrictions appearing not to have any impact.

The trend was revealed by the centre at the launch of a new report on cocaine trafficking into Europe, which sees no immediate end in continuing high levels of production and supply from South America.

It comes soon after the biggest ever seizure of cocaine in Europe, with 16 tonnes in Hamburg, Germany. It was linked to a 7-tonne seizure in Antwerp, Belgium, all from a 23-tonne shipment from Paraguay.

And it follows the largest seizure of cocaine in Ireland in many years, when 172kgs of the drug was found in Cork Port, inside a container shipped from Costa Rica.

Speaking at the launch of The Cocaine Pipeline to Europe, co-author Jeremy McDermott warned of a “very big party” once Covid-19 vaccinations take effect.

The executive director of InSight Crime said this would involve a large rise in cocaine consumption in Europe, which, he said, might be temporary, but could last longer.

Laurent Laniel, principal scientific analyst at the centre, said figures showed a doubling in seizures of cocaine in Europe since 2013, with record hauls in 2017 and again in 2018.

He said the centre and Europol valued the cocaine market at €9.1bn in 2017, almost twice the value in 2013.

Providing updates on cocaine seizures, he said: “I can tell you that in 2019 we broke the 2018 record and I can even tell you that in 2020 we also broke the 2019 record. That’s true for the quantities seized and the numbers of seizures.” 

He said there had been a “dramatic” increase in the purity of cocaine on the streets in the last ten years.

He said Covid-19 had “very little impact” on supply and may have “even helped”.

Mr Laniel said figures from Antwerp port — which, along with Rotterdam, is the biggest single recipient for cocaine in Europe — show a significant change in originating countries.

Seizures coming from Ecuador dramatically increased in January to March 2020, compared to same period in 2019 —
from 1.8 tonnes to over 7 tonnes.

Costa Rica also showed a significant increase as the country of origin, from zero to over one tonne, with most of it hidden inside legitimate cargo.

The seizure in Cork last month came from the port of Limon in Costa Rica, and contained in a consignment of bananas. Limon was also the port that 133kgs of cocaine, which was bound for Cork, was seized in August 2018.

The InSight report said that while Italian mafia, particularly the ‘Ndrangheta, and Balkan organised crime groups are dominant in the trafficking, that “Irish, British, French, Dutch, Turkish, and Belgian actors also play a key role in the supply chain” both in Europe and in South America.

The report was published with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

Mr McDermott sees a spike in usage post-Covid: “Once vaccinations take effect across Europe and things open up across Europe we expect a very big party and a very big jump, perhaps temporary and perhaps not, in cocaine consumption.” 

He said the increased security in Antwerp and Rotterdam suggested “a shift around Europe” in ports being used by traffickers.

“This will bring challenges to European nations as organised crime focus on what they identify are more vulnerable points,” he said.

He said a possible explanation for the increase in volume being seized in Europe was traffickers may have been putting bigger quantities into what were less sailings and fewer containers because of the lockdown restrictions.

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