Dutch Police Report Increase in Drug Smuggling at Smaller Ports

Dutch port drug smuggling
Smaller seaports including Vlissingen in the Netherlands are experiencing an increase in drug smuggling (Vlissingen file photo)

Published Jul 12, 2023 2:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dutch police are moving to combat a strong increase in drug smuggling activity focusing on the country’s smaller seaports. Following efforts to crack down on smuggling at the main European seaports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, they now report seeing a strong increase in activity at smaller ports including at Vlissingen within the North Sea Port complex.

Customs reports that it has intercepted a total of 30 tons of cocaine so far this year, which is up by a third over 2022. The biggest single bust was at Rotterdam totaling 3.6 tons, but so far in 2023, they have also found approximately 4.5 tons of cocaine at the Zeeland port of Vlissinger. This includes a bust at the beginning of July for 1,500 kilos. The amount of cocaine seized so far in 2023 at Vlissinger is more than the total for all of 2022.

Since 2020, the police have been seeing a steady increase in smuggling activity at the smaller seaports. They determined that criminal gangs were gaining too much influence in the seaports in Zeeland and West Brabant, nothing a strong increase in corrupt dockworkers involved in the smuggling efforts. Last week, they arrested yet another dockworker linked to the latest cocaine seizure.

To combat the rise in smuggling at the smaller ports, a new police unit was launched on July 1 focusing specifically on the ports of Vlissingen, Borsele, Terneuzen, and Moerdijk. Officials said, just like Rotterdam, this region now has its own seaport police. The new unit was launched with 25 police professionals, including patrol officers, detectives, and intelligence officers. 

One of the first focuses of the new police unit is to target what they termed “snatchers,” individuals hired to take cocaine from the shipping containers in the port and deliver it to the organized crime gangs. Since January, they report that 32 youths have been arrested as part of the snatching operations.

“Those are significant numbers for such a small port,” customs official Chris Mels told Dutch broadcaster NOS during an interview. “We are seeing a shift away from Rotterdam and Antwerp to smaller ports like Vlissingen.”

Another focus for the new police force is what they call “climbers.” They are people who try to illegally travel to the UK. The new team will be working closely with the police force in the Port of Rotterdam.

Europol issued a report in April 2023 detailing the level of port corruption and the use of port employees in the smuggling efforts. It was estimated in 2022, that five percent of the world’s cocaine production moved through the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. Earlier this year, the major shipping lines operating at the Dutch and Belgian ports, announced new efforts to work with the police and port authorities in an effort to combat drug smuggling.