Maritime Seizures of LatAm Cocaine Shipments to Spain on the Rise

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Authorities in Spain say they have seen a marked increase in maritime seizures of South American cocaine destined for Europe in the past two years, highlighting the importance of this simple but efficient drug trafficking method.

Spanish authorities told El Confidencial that maritime drug shipments “have multiplied considerably” in the last two years, with most coming from Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean.

Indeed, in just the past two months, the anti-drug and organized crime unit of Spain’s police, in partnership with other anti-narcotic agencies, has seized nearly nine metric tons of Spain-bound cocaine.

The amount was collected during three separate operations. The first took place on May 4 and led to the seizure of approximately 2.4 tons of cocaine in the Atlantic Ocean aboard a Venezuelan fishing boat.

The second — and largest — took place on May 15, when over 5.5 tons of cocaine were seized aboard a cargo ship in Ecuador’s national waters. According to Spanish authorities, who coordinated the operation with Ecuador’s police, the ship was due to cross the Panama Canal before heading to Spain.

The latest incident took place on June 4, when 1.2 tons of cocaine were seized aboard another Spain-bound Venezuelan ship sailing on the Atlantic.

Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido stated that the recent seizures “show that the fight against drug trafficking and the international organizations that bring drugs from Latin America to Spain is yielding results.”

“We shall not stop until we dismantle all groups trying to smuggle narcotics into Spain,” he added.

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent multi-ton Spain-bound cocaine seizures serve as a reminder of the importance of maritime smuggling for drug traffickers. This is particularly true in the case of cocaine; Ana Lilia Pérez, author of the book “Seas of Cocaine,” estimates that some 70 to 80 percent of cocaine consumed globally is at some point trafficked by boat.

According to the US State Department’s 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, booming cocaine production in the Andean region has led to an increase in the amount of cocaine flowing globally, and a parallel growth in the amount of narcotics being smuggled via both the Atlantic as well as the Pacific.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration

As InSight Crime has previously noted, drug trafficking organizations in Colombia — the world’s biggest producer of cocaine — appear to have increased their smuggling operations via the Pacific as a result of crackdowns on drug vessels leaving through the Caribbean. Indeed, the percentage of cocaine seized in Colombia’s Pacific departments reached 44 percent in 2016, compared to 21 percent in 2014.

Still, the Atlantic is a more efficient route for shipments to Europe, and the recent seizures by Spanish authorities underscore the importance of not only Colombia, but also Venezuela and the Caribbean as crucial transit zones.

However, it is Brazil that is the principal departure point for the bulk of South American cocaine destined to European, African and Asian markets. According to some estimates, the port of Santos in the state of São Paulo is the departure point for as much as 80 percent of the cocaine that reaches Europe.  

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