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Illegal drug seizures in Antwerp continue to rise

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By Euronews, AP
A customs agent works with a drug sniffer dog in the Port of Antwerp on Aug. 17, 2022.
A customs agent works with a drug sniffer dog in the Port of Antwerp on Aug. 17, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Virginia Mayo   -  

Seizures of illegal drugs at the port of Antwerp continue to rise with almost 36 metric tonnes of drugs discovered in the first half of the year, Belgian authorities have announced. 

Some 41 tonnes were recovered by authorities in 2017, with the number rising year-on-year to reach 65.5 tonnes in 2020. 

2021 was an exceptional year, with over 89 metric tonnes of drugs seized after investigators cracked the encrypted messaging service Sky ECC and intercepted a billion messages during a two-year investigation.

But Belgian Customs Direct General Kristian Vanderwaeren told journalists that even if seizures linked to the Sky ECC operation were removed from 2022 data, an increase in the attempted imports of cocaine is evident.

Vanderwaeren said that sending drugs to Europe is more profitable for the Colombian and other cartels as "they don't have to work with the Mexican cartels which are in between and take the most profits of the drugs exported to the United States" and because the "retail price" of cocaine is higher in Europe. 

In a major report last year, Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, described Belgium and neighbouring Netherlands as "the epicentre"  of the Old Continent's cocaine market. 

During a demonstration event in Antwerp, customs officers also showcased a new mobile scanning vehicle used during the checks, which allows scans to take place near container ships as cargo is being unloaded.