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EU Proposes 'Ports Alliance' to Fight Drug Trafficking Amid Supply Chain Concerns

The European Commission has put forth a proposal for increased coordination among European ports, governments, and private companies in the form of a "European Ports Alliance" aimed at combatting drug trafficking. This initiative comes in response to a concerning revelation made by Keith Svendsen, the CEO of APM Terminals, a division of Danish shipping group Maersk, who warned that drug cartels have infiltrated shipping supply chains to an "extreme" extent.

EU Proposes 'Ports Alliance' to Fight Drug Trafficking Amid Supply Chain Concerns

Svendsen pointed out that shipping companies are now dealing with "some of the most dangerous people in the world." He emphasized the alarming extent to which these criminal organizations have penetrated the entire supply chain, affecting not only shipping and port operations but also other aspects of the trade network.

To address this pressing issue, the European Commission is exploring the establishment of common risk criteria and priorities for customs controls at the EU level. As part of this effort, Brussels plans to allocate €200 million to fund the acquisition of equipment for scanning containers, beginning in 2024.

Belgium's port city of Antwerp, known as the largest cocaine trafficking hub in Europe, seized a record 110 tonnes of cocaine in 2022. However, currently, Antwerp scans only two percent of the goods passing through the port. There are plans to increase this figure to scan all containers arriving from Latin America, deemed "high-risk," by 2028. Currently, only about five percent of such containers undergo checks.

According to the European Union's drugs monitoring agency (EMCDDA), cocaine shipments to Europe reached a record 303 tonnes in 2021, primarily arriving via global shipping routes.

European officials intend to urge national governments to enforce existing security regulations for ports, including equipping ports and shipping companies with the tools to "screen and vet their employees to avoid corruption by criminal networks."

The pressure on the shipping industry to combat drug trafficking poses a risk of disrupting the commercial operations of container carriers, which transport millions of containers every week.

Keith Svendsen expressed his main concern as a "duty of care" toward his staff, emphasizing the importance of their safety. He noted instances where employees had been coerced into assisting drug gangs, emphasizing the need for more comprehensive problem-solving approaches before Antwerp's 100 percent scanning target can be achieved.

Instead, Svendsen suggested reinforcing checks on exports in Latin America, pointing to a €1 billion investment made by APM Terminals in a container terminal it operates in Moín, Costa Rica.

In a recent example, authorities in the port of Rotterdam discovered 8 tons of cocaine on a Maersk ship in July, with a street value of €600 million. This seizure marked the largest cocaine confiscation in the Netherlands.

Svendsen clarified that Maersk was not responsible for the drugs found in its containers, highlighting that the issue is related to international drug trafficking leveraging legitimate infrastructure to move illegal products by infiltrating supply chains.


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