Belgium, where Antwerp represents the first entry point for cocaine in Europe, advocates close collaboration between the ports of the European Union in the fight against “very creative” traffickers, explains its Minister of the Interior, Annelies Verlinden.
Jointly with the European Commission, the Belgian official will launch, on Wednesday, in the main Flemish city, an “Alliance of European ports”, in which around twenty of them have been invited to participate (including Rotterdam, Hamburg, Algeciras and Marseille). , EU agencies such as Europol, as well as interior ministers and organizations representing shipping companies in particular.
“We must create this network to fight organized crime,” insists Annelies Verlinden.
In the gigantic port of Antwerp, which stretches for kilometers, cocaine seizures break records every year: 116 tonnes were intercepted there in 2023. And the city is regularly shaken by gang-related violence, which is compete for traffic with colossal financial stakes.
Exchange “information” and “good practices”
Traffickers “are always very creative, and that is our challenge. They are not limited by legislation on working time, on private life, by borders, so we must collaborate and be efficient,” argues the minister, emphasizing the importance of “the exchange of information and good practices”.
The alliance must in particular respond to the problem of corruption and the infiltration of ports by these criminal networks. Collaboration must be done with the private sector, because controls can have an impact on legal commercial activity, and the right “balance” must be found, emphasizes Annelies Verlinden.
Annelies Verlinden, Belgian Minister of the Interior
The partnership aims to ensure that security is ensured in all European ports, in a uniform manner. “We know that companies are very flexible, if things no longer suit them, they can go elsewhere the next day. We want to avoid that,” continues the minister, emphasizing the economic importance of the port of Antwerp, the second largest in Europe.
Avoid moving traffic
Strengthening security measures in one port can also shift illegal traffic to others. “We can push controls in Belgium, but if drug trafficking increases in France or Spain, we cannot create a secure zone in Europe. We all need this stability, this harmonization,” she comments.
In Antwerp, “we have a record number of seizures, but you never know what you haven’t seized.” Annelies Verlinden believes, however, that “there is better detection”: “We have invested heavily in security services, customs, and created a port security corps”. The Flemish port currently has one mobile scanner, and five more are due to be delivered in 2024, while around a hundred additional customs officers are expected.
“We want to scan all the containers in a country at risk”
Currently, according to Belgian customs, 1 to 2% of all containers are scanned. “What we want is to scan all the containers that come from a country at risk” (for example from South America or West Africa), aims Annelies Verlinden, emphasizing however that containers could have passed through another port and no longer be classified as “at risk”.
This article is originally published on lematin.ch