- The port of Santos in southeast Brazil saw its largest cocaine bust ever on Friday.
- The port is a major transshipment center for the drug, and seizures there are frequent.
- Brazil as a whole has become a hub for both consumption and transit of the drug.
Federal officials in Brazil intercepted a shipment of 2,052 kilos of cocaine on Friday at the port of Santos in the country’s southeast, near São Paulo. It was the biggest bust ever made at the port, according to Brazil’s Federal Revenue service.
Brazilian Revenue officials found the drugs at a container terminal at a wharf in Guaruja. During a survey of the containers, customs officials found hundreds of tablets of the drug in three containers, hidden among legal, declared shipments of coffee, sugar, and soy.
One container held 1.1 tons of cocaine, another had 500 kilos, and the rest was in the third.
The containers were to be loaded on a ship called the Cap San Marco, set to arrive at the port this weekend, and were destined for Hamburg, Germany; Le Havre, France, and Algeciras, Spain, port authorities told news site Globo.
- REUTERS/Fernando Donasci
Authorities suspected the cocaine was hidden in the containers after they arrived at the terminal. An investigation will be opened to identify the people responsible for the shipment as well as those involved in the attempt to sneak the drugs into the legitimate cargo, according to Globo.
Santos was the busiest port in Latin America in 2016, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. That year, the port saw 3.4 million TEUs, each of which is equivalent to one standard 20-foot-long shipping container. The port accounts for nearly one-third of Brazil’s trade.
The three-square-mile port complex in Santos is surrounded by upscale beachfront condos and three sprawling favelas, which are made up of huts mounted on stilts. The port itself has over the past year processed many of the goods driving the country’s protracted recovery from a deep recession, according to a Bloomberg report published late last year.
Cocaine has become increasingly common among those goods. So far this year, Brazilian authorities have made six drug-seizures in Santos, totaling about 2,800 pounds, according to the Brazil’s Federal Revenue service.
Santos’ federal police chief told Bloomberg smugglers active in the port continue to innovate. A recent method has been pulling up alongside ships leaving the port and using lines dropped by cooperating crew members to hoist drug shipments aboard.
A 2017 report found there was 100 times more cocaine in the water of the Bay of Santos, off the São Paulo coast, than there was in the water off US coasts.
Just a few weeks before the bust on Friday, federal authorities intercepted 355 kilos of the drug at the port, also at a wharf in Guaruja. That shipment was destined for Hamburg.
In a February bust, a diver was spotted near a ship in the port. The diver fled when authorities responded, but 57 kilos of cocaine were found on the ship and in a waterproof bag dropped by the diver.
The port’s previous record seizure was 1,495 kilos, which were found in three containers there in August 2016. Those drugs were bound for Antwerp, Belgium.
A global cocaine hub
Brazil – its southeastern corner in particular – has emerged as a key transshipment point for South American cocaine headed to Europe.
Its porous borders stretch nearly 10,000 kilometers – three times as long as the US-Mexico border – much of which is shared with Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, the three main producers of the drug. Brazil itself is also the world’s second-biggest cocaine consumer, behind the US.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2017 World Drug Report, Brazil was the most frequently mentioned non-European country of departure for shipments of cocaine to Europe between 2010 and 2015 – followed by Colombia and Peru.
African countries also reported Brazil as the most common departure or transit point for cocaine smuggled to that continent between 2010 and 2015, citing it 58% of the time. Second place, Colombia, was cited just 20% of the time.
Brazil was also the most frequently reported departure or transit point for cocaine trafficked to Asia between 2010 and 2015, cited 37% of the time – again ahead of Colombia, which was cited 19% of the time.
The southeast corner of Brazil, where Santos is located, has also become a hub for smuggling, as it located near the tri-border region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay converge. In late 2016, as the Rio Olympics were in full swing, authorities in Paraguay intercepted a bus loaded with 300 kilos of Colombia cocaine headed for the games.
That shipment would have stayed in Brazil. But many like it appear headed to Santos. The port sees off as much as 80% of the cocaine heading to Europe, according to a mid-2015 report.