Cocaine seizures in Brazil have hit a record high this year -- with the vast majority of drugs detected in cargo containers at the country’s ports.
Between January and October 2019, cocaine seizures reached 47.1 tons, a jump from the 31.5 tons taken in all of 2018, Globo reported. Authorities seized 85 percent of the cocaine, or 40 tons, at just four Brazilian ports.
The Port of Santos -- the country’s largest -- broke its 2018 record on November 22, when more than a ton of cocaine was found in scrap metal cargo headed to Antwerp, Belgium and destined for the Rotterdam port in the Netherlands. Authorities scanned the container and then brought in drug-sniffing dogs, which uncovered the cocaine wrapped in aluminum and stuffed into plastic bags.
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The following week, authorities at Santos -- located in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo -- discovered another ton of cocaine, concealed in sacks of sugar slated for shipment to Morocco. That seizure brought the port’s cocaine haul this year to 25.3 tons. Its previous peak was reported last year with 23.1 tons.
Other Brazilian ports have similarly tallied record cocaine seizures. The Port of Paranaguá -- further south of the Santos Port -- has seized about 13.5 tons, nearly tripling the amount taken in during all of 2018. The destinations for almost all the shipments were the Antwerp and Rotterdam ports.
Authorities also seized more than four tons of cocaine at the port of Natal, Brazil’s easternmost port and closest to Europe. The cocaine was concealed in fruit cargo headed to Rotterdam. The Natal port, built in 1932, had never seen any drug seizures until this year, authorities said.
InSight Crime Analysis
The record amount of cocaine seized at Brazil’s ports indicates dueling trends: authorities have stepped up enforcement, but there is also massive corruption of port workers and others within the supply chain.
The Santos port -- Latin America’s largest -- accounts for some 40 percent of Brazil’s maritime shipping, making it an attractive target for traffickers. Five years ago, however, a mere ton of cocaine was seized at the port.
The jump is a result of increased cocaine production in nearby producer countries, particularly Colombia, and rising demand for cocaine in Europe, where the drug has made a dramatic comeback and commands a high street price. Nearly 30 percent of the cocaine seized this year at Belgium’s Antwerp port -- a main gateway for drugs to Europe -- came from Brazil.
During a recent visit to the Santos port, officials told InSight Crime that they have improved controls through new technology, including the use of advanced scanning equipment, surveillance cameras, and computer algorithms to identify suspicious containers. The port also counts on a dedicated drug-sniffing K-9 unit of beagles. Identifying the groups behind the large drug shipments, who likely worked in concert, is more difficult, officials said.
Most container shipments are contaminated with drugs through a technique called “rip-on, rip-off,” which means the cocaine is smuggled into cargo containers by tampering with them dockside. This is largely done without the owners’ knowledge and requires the collusion of workers, security officers, and supply chain agents, who know which containers are to be loaded and their destination. Similarly, it requires corrupt workers at the destination ports to recover the drugs.
Of the nearly 20 tons of cocaine bound for Belgium’s Antwerp that was seized at Brazilian ports, the vast majority was secreted aboard the cargo containers using the “rip-on, rip-off” technique, according to the latest annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
In contrast, cocaine in shipments from Colombian ports was largely concealed within legitimate cargo, meaning the drugs were likely introduced when the container was being packed, not afterward.