Belgium Has Seized More Cocaine Than It Can Destroy

Officials at the port of Antwerp say they cannot incinerate seized cocaine fast enough and fear the backlog could be robbed from storage depots.
Max Daly
London, GB
Belgium cocaine incinerator
Dock workers open the back of a lorry at  Antwerp Port to check for cocaine. Photo: Photo by Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images.

The amount of cocaine being seized at the Belgian port of Antwerp is so massive that authorities are worried smugglers could steal it back because police can’t burn it fast enough. 

Officials said there is not enough incinerator capacity to cope with rising seizures of the drug at the port, creating what has been dubbed a “cocaine-berg”. 

As a result, Belgian port authorities and ministers are worried the backlog of cocaine being stored at secret depots near the port could be targeted by organised crime gangs, who are known to have corrupt police and port workers on their books. 

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Antwerp is the top entry point for South American cocaine into Europe. Last year nearly 90 tons of cocaine was seized at Antwerp, an all-time high, and officials believe this year will also show record amounts seized. 

“The rapid destruction of confiscated goods is an ongoing challenge,” Belgian customs service spokesperson Francis Adyns told Antwerp newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen. 

“There’s a problem with incinerator capacity,” he later told AFP, adding that a solution was “on the way”.

Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told De Standaard newspaper "the mountain of cocaine" is now so big criminals could use the chance to raid storage depots at the port. 

"We are urgently looking for additional incineration capacity," said Van Quickenborne. He said bureaucracy around the destruction of cocaine means each batch has to be burned by appointment, and so it is a slow process. "The more cocaine you seize, the more time you need. And there is a lot of cocaine.”

Antwerp’s position as the top destination for cocaine produced in South America is  a reflection of the crucial role played by container shipping in cocaine trafficking. Record seizures at Antwerp last year were boosted by European police forces busting the encrypted phone systems EncroChat and Sky ECC, which are used by gangsters to coordinate drug smuggling and other crime business. 

The cocaine trade has impacted the city of Antwerp, and other ports in the region such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which have both seen a steep rise in gangland executions, bombings and money laundering connected to the cocaine trade.