Historic cocaine seizures in Sweden in recent months highlight the Nordic country's increasing role as a gateway for cocaine from Latin America to the rest of Europe.
Swedish customs seized 460 kilograms of cocaine in late April at the port of Helsingborg, across the Oresund strait from neighboring Denmark, according to a government press release.
Authorities discovered the drugs hidden in secret compartments in the floor of two containers that had arrived from Ecuador. The compartments were designed so that traffickers could retrieve the cocaine without opening the container and unloading the legitimate cargo, authorities said, adding that they had found blowtorches and bolt cutters left at the port by suspected traffickers in the last few months.
Since January, Swedish authorities have seized almost 870 kilograms of cocaine at Helsingborg, already surpassing the 822 kilograms seized during all of last year. Last year’s seizure figure was itself record-shattering, up from just 261 kilograms in 2021. In 2018, customs seized 487 kilograms of cocaine at the port.
"Our assessment is that Sweden has become a transit country for drug smuggling. Large quantities of narcotics are shipped here to be further distributed to other countries in Europe,” Erik Friberg, head of the customs service's criminal division, said in the press release.
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Drug traffickers are searching for less common and less-surveilled ports of entry for the movement of cocaine into Europe, as scrutiny at the continent’s major ports increases.
Inadequate security in secondary ports like Helsingborg has made them attractive entry points for Latin American drug traffickers, according to customs officials. Friberg highlighted the port’s perimeter and fencing as weak, and said the harbor suffers from poor lighting and a lack of surveillance cameras.
Ecuador has become a primary departure point for Albanian criminal groups moving cocaine from Latin America to Europe. The recent arrests in Helsingborg demonstrate that they may be experimenting with cocaine trafficking through Sweden. Swedish authorities apprehended two Albanian citizens who tried to retrieve 47 kilograms of cocaine from Helsingborg in December last year. These are the only arrests made for drug trafficking-related offenses in the area recently.
The crackdown by authorities on well-known cocaine trafficking hotspots like Antwerp and Rotterdam push traffickers to seek secondary routes to get their drugs across the Atlantic, Anna Sergi, a professor of criminology at the University of Essex, told InSight Crime.
"There is a tendency in the drug trade, especially cocaine, to use counterintuitive routes that offer lower risks in the short term. This allows groups to rethink strategy with less pressure from law enforcement, which is slower to catch up," Sergi said.
Major cocaine seizures in Russia and Norway show that countries on the Nordic Sea are becoming increasingly common entry points for Latin American-produced cocaine, with much of the drugs moving from these countries to other parts of Europe.
Other secondary ports have also reported rising cocaine seizures in the past two years. Ports along the United Kingdom’s southern coast have seen a rise in multi-ton cocaine seizures, with ships carrying cargo from Colombia and the Caribbean. France’s Le Havre port is now firmly established as an important entry point for Europe-bound cocaine, seizing about 10 tons annually.