6 arrested as 35 tonnes of cocaine seized at major European ports


Europol has supported the German Criminal Police (LKA Baden Wuttemberg) and German Customs (ZFA Stuttgart and ZOLL Karlsruhe) in dismantling a criminal organisation smuggling large quantities of cocaine in containers from South America to the EU via major ports, largely the ports of Hamburg (Germany), Antwerp (Belgium) and Rotterdam (Netherlands). The investigation also involved law enforcement authorities from Belgium, the Netherlands, Ecuador and Columbia.

The investigation, initiated in April 2023, focused on a criminal network organising multi-tonne shipments to Europe of cocaine sourced in Ecuador and shipped from Colombia, Ecuador, Suriname, Guyana and Paraguay. Investigative leads link the group to possible additional shipments from West Africa. The criminal network operated from Germany, allegedly organising the logistics of their criminal activity through the involvement of large number of front companies, including transport companies and criminal associates such as administrative personnel and drivers. Between April and September 2023, law enforcement authorities in Belgium, Ecuador and Germany seized about 35 tonnes of cocaine linked to the activities of this criminal network.

The action days on 31 May (in Cologne) and 5 June (in Hamburg) led to:

6 arrests

24 house searches

Seizures including high-end vehicles, jewellery, cash, electronic equipment and various documents

This operation follows EU Member States’ and Europol’s efforts to provide a response to the most threating criminal networks active in the EU, especially the ones operating in the EU’s major ports. Such an operational response aims at bringing together EU Member States to effectively target these logistical networks with close ties to the command-and-control centres affecting the EU’s internal security. To better understand and counter the threat, Europol published a joint analysis report in partnership with the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg/Bremerhaven that looks into the risk and challenges for law enforcement posed by criminal networks in EU ports.

Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided continuous analytical support to the investigation. Europol also contributed to the overall case coordination among various agencies. On the action day, Europol deployed two experts in the field to cross-check operational information in real time and provide experts with possible leads and technical support.