A patrol ship in the Dutch Caribbean has caught over three tons of cocaine in a rapid series of seizures, displaying how regularly drug shipments traverse the area on their way to Europe and the United States.
On September 8, the Dutch navy ship Zr.Ms. Groningen intercepted a speedboat to the west of Aruba carrying half a ton of cocaine, according to the Dutch Ministry of Defence. Within a month, four more seizures had followed: on September 11 (when another half ton of cocaine was interdicted from a speedboat), on September 22 (80 kilograms), on September 26 (284 kilograms) and on September 28, when a record 1.9 tons of cocaine were captured off a single vessel.
While this represents a significant boost for Dutch counter-narcotic operations, particularly since the latest seizure surpasses the Groningen’s previous seizure record of 1.7 tons of cocaine in May 2019 and constitutes the most maritime seizures in one month since records began in 1974, the combined volume of seized cocaine is not atypical. 2019 was a record-year for Dutch Caribbean drug seizures that saw over 10 tons of cocaine captured (just under 6 tons between January and August and 3.2 tons from October to December).
It was the largest seizure year since 2013 (when almost 10 tons of cocaine were interdicted) and second-largest since 2003. As the “absolute number 1 in the Dutch Navy” at combating drug trafficking, according to Dutch naval news website Marine Schepen, the Groningen played a major part in 2019’s record seizures.
These latest seizures bring the ship’s number of total interdictions to 17, nearly all of which have occurred since April 2019, when the Groningen began its two-year Caribbean deployment as part of the experimental “Ocean-Going Patrol Vessel Exchange Crew” program.
The Groningen’s deployment is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands' main strategy to stem the flow of drugs through the region, according to a regional expert who spoke to InSight Crime.
A recent report from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs also highlighted the role US surveillance flights from Curaçao and Aruba have had in supporting the Dutch Navy's counter-narcotics efforts, helping interdict an alleged 308 tons of cocaine and 26 tons of cannabis in the broader region between October 2018 and September 2019.
InSight Crime Analysis
In recent years, the Dutch Caribbean has been a consistently attractive transit region for drug traffickers, due to the combination of skyrocketing Colombian supply and the increased use of Venezuela as a dispatch point - particularly its Caribbean islands such as Los Roques and Isla Margarita.
While seizure numbers are an imprecise metric for measuring the scale of trafficking and heightened interdiction efforts certainly contribute to increased seizures, it seems likely the total volume of cocaine moving through the area has spiked.
A major reason is that since the collapse of Venezuela’s shipping industry and the dramatic reduction in air travel, especially during the pandemic, drug traffickers in the country have increasingly relied on “go-fast” speedboats to transport illicit goods to Caribbean islands with more air and maritime traffic, such as the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
From there, the drugs either move to the next link in the supply chain or travel directly to their final destinations, according to the aforementioned regional expert. Cultural and historical ties facilitate trafficking from Puerto Rico to the US, from the Dominican Republic to Spain and from the Dutch-owned islands to the Netherlands.