Brazil’s Port of Natal New Link in Netherlands Cocaine Chain

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Authorities have revealed a new cocaine trafficking route from a Brazil shipping port to the Netherlands, confirming that the small European country is now a preferred receiving destination for the drug from across Latin America.

In February, Brazilian authorities seized 3.3 tons of cocaine in two separate shipments of tropical fruits at the port of Natal, the first seizures of this kind at Brazil’s easternmost port, globo.com reported. Both shipping containers were headed to Rotterdam.

During the past four months, authorities in Rotterdam have discovered seven tons of cocaine in shipments all coming from the same Brazilian port.

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The ten tons of drugs seized in just four months equaled more than half of the 18 tons of cocaine apprehended throughout 2018 at the port of Santos, Brazil’s largest, Tribuna do Norte reported. The quantities involved point to the port of Natal, which opened in 1932, becoming a major exit point for drugs from Brazil, with the Netherlands as the intended destination.

Reaction from the French shipping giant, CMA CGM Group, which is the only company exporting fruit from the port, has been swift, with the company suspending its activities in Natal and rerouting its exports through the nearby port of Fortaleza.

Authorities have launched a three-month investigation and have requested a new container scanner, which the port previously lacked. The absence of such equipment has been blamed for the ease with which criminal groups were using Natal to export their drug shipments.

The seizures in the Netherlands and Brazil have shown a similar modus operandi: cocaine packets camouflaged among fruit boxes. But a chemical analysis of the cocaine revealed that it came from three separate countries: Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. This hints that the criminal groups involved are receiving cocaine from various sources, combining it, and packaging it to send to the Netherlands.

InSight Crime Analysis

The uncovering of the cocaine pipeline to the Netherlands via the port of Natal indicates that drug smugglers are increasingly targeting the European nation.

In recent months, the Netherlands has seen record drug seizures, along with neighboring Belgium. Record cocaine production in Colombia and a growing market for the drug in Europe are likely the reasons criminal groups are seeking new routes to the continent.

What makes the port of Natal particularly useful to drug smugglers is its relative proximity to Europe — extending far into the Atlantic — and its lack of security infrastructure.

Since 2009 Brazil has been the main outlet for South American cocaine destined for Europe, according to the United Nations on Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). From Brazil, traffickers coordinate with European criminal organizations to receive and distribute the drug.

For example, in December, Interpol busted a large drug trafficking ring involving Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which smuggled loads of cocaine as large as 200 kilograms from Brazil, Guyana, and Colombia into Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Drug smugglers clearly have identified the Netherlands as a destination of choice, and fruit coming through Natal have made for the perfect hiding place.

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