HomeNewsCargo Ships Act as Trans-Atlantic Drug Carriers, With Crews Unaware
NEWS

Cargo Ships Act as Trans-Atlantic Drug Carriers, With Crews Unaware

BRAZIL / 30 AUG 2021 BY ASHLEY PECHINSKI EN

Police in Brazil have broken up a smuggling ring that had a curious modus operandi. For years, its divers strapped cocaine to the hulls of cargo ships departing for Europe, an increasingly popular technique that often happens unbeknownst to the crew.

More than 200 kilograms of cocaine were seized and a dozen people arrested during a massive police operation in Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo, home to the port of Vitória, authorities said in a news release.

During a two-year investigation, police discovered that the traffickers transported bricks of cocaine from Rio to the neighboring state of Espírito Santo. The cocaine was then loaded onto small fishing boats that steered near cargo ships anchored in the port of Vitória. Divers then concealed the drugs in their hulls below the waterline, attaching the cocaine to the rudder compartment. Once the ships docked near the Port of Rotterdam, divers retrieved the cocaine.

SEE ALSO: Container Shipping: Cocaine Hide and Seek

The underwater drug smuggling scheme had likely been going on for years. Besides the dozen arrests, police seized 14 luxury vehicles and confiscated $158,719 (827,000 Brazilian Reals). Six mansions located in the Mangaratiba municipality of Rio de Janeiro and the Guarapari municipality in Espírito Santo state were also seized.

While investigators are still looking into the ships that brought the drugs from Brazil to the Netherlands, it is highly suspected that the crew of the cargo ships were unaware of their participation in the international drug trade.

A similar drug trafficking ring was also busted this week in Colombia. A gang, known as the Troya, soldered metal tubes to ships in the Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta ports that contained cocaine. Using this technique, the drug trafficking organization delivered over 20 tons of cocaine to Central America and the United States in two years.

InSight Crime Analysis

Traffickers are using every tactic in the playbook to hitch a ride on cargo ships heading to Europe, concealing it inside containers and attaching it to the ships themselves, all of which makes the job of law enforcement more dangerous and difficult.

While the use of divers to strap cocaine to the hulls of ships is not a new smuggling method -- French frogmen were nabbed in 2013 -- regional reports suggest the tactic is on the rise. A Colombian drug trafficking organization recently hired divers in Peru to weld packages of cocaine inside the vents of ships docked in the Pisco and Chimbote ports in an effort to evade law enforcement authorities searching for cocaine onboard.

Other diver dependant smuggling methods include torpedoes filled with cocaine bolted or tied onto the ship's hull. Cavities below the waterline, such as water inlets in the stern and the propeller compartment, have also been used to hide cocaine.

SEE ALSO: Hide and Seek: How Drug Traffickers Get Creative at Sea

Maritime drug smugglers also count on corrupt crew members and authorities to stow cocaine on cargo ships.

The engine room is a popular hiding spot since the area is typically restricted to select personnel. The captain's cabin has also been used.

The favored method, though, continues to be to conceal drugs within maritime cargo containers. Tactics and the ports targeted are constantly changing. As a result, authorities at Dutch, Belgian and German ports have recently made record cocaine seizures.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 15 APR 2013

The United Nations (UN) has warned that the drug trade could lead to a surge in violence in Bolivia,…

BRAZIL / 21 SEP 2012

Rio de Janeiro has officially inaugurated an elite pacifying police force (UPP) in Rocinha favela, the site of a power…

BRAZIL / 8 FEB 2012

Express kidnappings rose 62.5 percent in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, according to recently released government statistics. But…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…