Authorities in Greece seized another major shipment of cocaine on Friday as global production, according to reports, has reached record levels.
According to a police announcement the cocaine was hidden in a container bringing bananas from Latin America to the northern port of Thessaloniki.
Officers of the drug enforcement unit found 161 kilograms of the illegal drug in packages that had been stuffed into hidden compartments in the shipping container. The haul is estimated to have a street value of at least 3.2 million euros.
Similar haul of cocaine in Greece in May
The operation to find the drugs is connected to a similar haul of more than 100 kilograms of cocaine that was intercepted in early May, also at Thessaloniki port and again in a shipment of bananas from Latin America.
That operation led to the arrest of 10 suspects in Greece and another four in North Macedonia, who are believed to be part of an international drug smuggling racket.
Both operations were run by the Greek authorities in cooperation with the American Drug Enforcement Agency bureau in Athens and with their counterparts in North Macedonia.
In April this year, $164m of cocaine hidden inside ventilation ducts was found by Italian authorities on a Greek ship off Venice.
A total of 570 packages were found, weighing 850 kg.
Container ships targeted for cocaine smuggling
Container ships are more usually targeted for drugs smuggling, but other vessels can also find themselves used unwittingly by gangs, specialist shipping site Trade Winds says.
Last month, European police agency Europol said more than 200 tonnes of cocaine have been transported through the European Union’s two busiest ports by criminal gangs after they secured unique container codes from corrupt insiders.
A report by the agency revealed the tactic has been growing since 2018, when the port of Rotterdam discovered that containers were going missing, had turned up at the wrong places or had been dumped.
Gangs pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to corrupt insiders involved in shipping logistics to hand over the unique computerized details of a container that is assigned once payment has been made for transport. The practice is known as PIN code fraud.
Global production of cocaine has reached new heights
A recent report reveals that global cocaine production has reached an all-time high as demand surges following Covid lockdowns.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported a 35% increase in coca cultivation from 2020 to 2021, resulting in record production levels.
The findings indicate that West and Central Africa have become new hubs for drug trafficking. In addition, traffickers are increasingly utilizing international postal services to deliver drugs to consumers.
During the Covid-related lockdowns, the use of parcel and courier services saw a significant uptick due to restrictions on passenger flights, according to the Global Report on Cocaine.
The report highlights an increase in West African countries employing well-established, global postal services and smaller shipping companies to smuggle cocaine to Europe and beyond.