Port of Antwerp welcomes officials following continued rise in cocaine seizures

(07.02.2023) European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson is visiting the Port of Antwerp today, following the continued rise in the quantity of cocaine seized at the port. The Commissioner will be accompanied by Belgian Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden, EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel and Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle. In recent years, Belgium has become the country seizing the largest quantities of cocaine in the EU.

Most cocaine seized in Europe arrives in maritime shipping containers. The Port of Antwerp, Europe’s second-largest container terminal, has been in the spotlight since 2018 as a prominent entry point for illicit drugs shipped to Europe from Latin America. Last month, data reported to the EMCDDA from the Belgian authorities indicated that cocaine seizures in Antwerp had risen from 91 tonnes in 2021 to close to 110 tonnes in 2022, making Antwerp the leading port for cocaine seizures in Europe.

In some EU Member States (Belgium, Spain, France, Netherlands), competition between criminal networks has intensified, resulting in an increase in violent clashes. This includes a rise in homicides, kidnappings and intimidation, with violence spilling over to those outside the drug market (e.g. bystanders, lawyers, government officials, journalists).

EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel commented today: ‘High levels of cocaine production in South America have resulted in record quantities being seized in Europe, with Belgium seizing the largest amounts of the drug in the EU. The exceptionally large cocaine seizures made in Antwerp, and in other European ports, indicate that the growing flow of cocaine now threatens the entire European Union’.

Goosdeel continues: 'I am deeply concerned that the expanding EU cocaine market is bringing a rise in violence and corruption and a strain on public institutions and governance. It also increases the risk of crack and cocaine use in all EU Member States. Based on available data and scientific evidence, we must adapt our responses to reduce drug supply and demand. This requires a more holistic and strategic analysis to capture the complexity of the drug market’s transformation in recent years and to design new and innovative approaches to the problem’.

He added: ‘We stand together with the European institutions and national authorities to reduce the availability of cocaine, protect our neighbourhoods and communities, and keep our citizens and their families safe from this drug's harmful health and social effects’.

In his address to the authorities of the country on 31 January 2023, His Majesty King Philippe of the Belgians underlined the ‘need to address the root causes of addiction, invest more in prevention, and protect young people from the false promises of drug use’.

Most of the cocaine shipped to Antwerp comes from Colombia, via the port of Guayaquil in Ecuador.

See also European Commission press release >> 

EMCDDA-Europol analysis — EU Drug Market: Cocaine >>