A sharp increase of seizures of multi-tonne cocaine loads on pleasure craft bound for Europe from the Eastern Caribbean testify to the increasing capacities of law enforcement agencies. On 23 May, Portuguese Polícia Judiciária searched a 24 metre long pleasure boat that had arrived at Faial island a couple of days before. Hidden inside a secret compartment in the side walls of the boat, was 1150 kg of cocaine. According to a spokesman from the Portuguese police the seizure had been made possible by intelligence from the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre, a EU funded platform based in Lisbon. The Serbian crew have been arrested.
It is the latest in a string of successful interceptions of vessels crossing the Atlantic from the Caribbean to Europe. Last month we reported the seizure of the luxury sailing yacht “Silandra” by the French navy in mid-Atlantic, with 2.2 tons of cocaine. Since then there has been the interception of the sailing yacht “Amsterdammer” by Spanish police and Customs near the Azores. The boat with a crew of 3 Serbians was carrying over a tonne of cocaine. A week later, on the 20th of May, Spanish police and naval forces stopped the fishing vessel “Walrus” 1,450 km from the Canaries. A mixed crew from the Netherlands and Cap Verde had 1,950 kg of cocaine.
The rising incidence of maritime trafficking reinforces the importance of coordinating existing European assets and strengthening the capacities of partners. The current extension of SEACOP III project into the Eastern Caribbean will significantly enhance the defensive capability against maritime trafficking threats. What remains to be assessed is the increasing prominence of Serbian criminal groups. The rising profile of Eastern European criminal groups reported from both Colombia and Argentina suggests the growing importance of Eastern Europe as a new trafficking hub for cocaine into European markets.