Container ship crews play a key role in cocaine trade via Dutch ports

ROTTERDAM - Container ships play an indispensable role in the worldwide cocaine trade, and it is time for large shipping companies to take responsibility and help fight drug trafficking, Jan Janse, district chief of the seaport police in Rotterdam. 


Every year, the authorities intercept thousands of kilograms of cocaine at the ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp, often hidden in containers full of fruit and other goods from South America. The drugs enter the ports and are then smuggled to the rest of Europe. 


According to Janse, several large shipping companies almost facilitate this drug trafficking by stopping at dodgy ports in South America, like Suriname or Ecuador. He named MSC, Maersk, Hapag Lloyd, and CMA CGM specifically. “In Guayaquil in Ecuador, you have two terminals. One complies with all the rules. The other is in the middle of a slum. It doesn’t even have a fence around it. You have zero guarantees that the containers loaded there contain what it says on paper. We also know that off the coast of Colombia, containers are loaded from a small ship to a big one. Then the chance that you take drugs with you is gigantic.” 


There’s no way that the shipping companies aren’t aware of the risks, Janse said. “But what did the shipping companies say until recently? We move boxes from A to B, and we are not responsible for what is in them,” Janse said. “But if you want to make a fist against the international drug cartels, then the shipping companies must take more responsibility.” 


AD asked the shipping companies for a comment. MSC, Maersk, and Hapag Lloyd responded. They said they are “taking plenty of measures” against drug trafficking. All three companies are protecting their container codes and confidential information better. They are also investing in more security of their terrains and screenings for their personnel. “But there will always be individuals recruited by criminals, sometimes under threat of violence. It is impossible to completely control that,” a spokesperson for MSC said. 

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