Maritime, air and overland trade routes into Europe are being piggybacked by criminal gangs deploying the latest digital supply chain technologies to help meet mushrooming demand for illegal drugs across the European Union (EU), according to a major new report examining the continent’s illicit drugs business.
The 2019 EU Drug Markets Report by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) raises concerns over “the greater diversification of maritime drug trafficking and the misuse of general aviation for criminal purposes.”
And it claims that “the use of post and parcel services to transport drugs is also expanding rapidly, following the rising trend of online shopping in Europe and the movement of larger volumes of goods.”
Europe’s burgeoning drugs market
According to the 2019 EU Drug Markets Report, Europeans are now spending at least 30 billion euros on drugs each year at the retail level, making the drug market a major source of income for organized crime groups in the EU.
Around two-fifths of this total (39%) is spent on cannabis, 31% on cocaine, 25% on heroin and 5% on amphetamines and MDMA.
Globalization and enhanced transportation technology have been critical facilitators in the expansion of these drug markets by enabling cheaper, more efficient and safer – thanks to decreasing inspections – organized crime operations, and the movement of larger quantities of illicit drugs without disruption.
“Organized crime groups are quick to seize new opportunities for financial gain and are increasingly exploiting technological and logistical innovations to expand their activities across international borders,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.
Drugs in a box
As reported in FreightWaves, there has been a rising number of drug seizures on container ships both in Europe and Asia, while mafia-style gangs are known to be targeting supply chain disruptions associated with Brexit.
The 2019 EU Drug Markets Report concludes the exploitation of maritime routes constitutes a growing threat.
“More than 750 million 20-foot equivalent units are transported by sea every year, accounting for 90 % of the global cargo trade,” it notes. “Fewer than 2% of shipping containers globally are ever screened.
“Large container ports in Europe and other continents are being increasingly exploited by drug traffickers for bulk transportation.”
The postal challenge
The use of post and parcel services for drug trafficking to transport drugs has also expanded rapidly recently, prompting EU Member States, customs in particular, to increase their controls of postal hubs.
“The increasing trend for shopping online in Europe is associated with an increase in parcel deliveries, which are predicted to increase by 69% between 2017 and 2021,” notes the 2019 EU Drug Markets Report.
“This increase in delivery volumes makes systematic controls of all parcels challenging. This presents an opportunity for drug traffickers to expand their use of this medium for delivering drugs too.”
Digitizing the ‘inside job’
The key role played by information technology in controlling and managing traffic flows at air and sea ports is also proving to be a window of opportunity for organized crime.
“They may obtain such access either through the cooperation of staff or by hacking into relevant computer networks,” says the 2019 EU Drug Markets Report.
“Furthermore, looking forward, it is conceivable that entire logistical chains can be automated and thus vulnerable to exploitation.”
The report calls for police and policy makers to target “top-level organized crime groups active in the global drug market” and reduce “vulnerabilities” at external borders.
A wake-up call for policymakers
EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel said the report was a wake-up call for policymakers to address the rapidly growing drug market, which was increasingly “global, joined-up and digitally enabled.”
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said Europol was seeing a clear increase in trafficking activity through its operational work and the intelligence contributions received from EU Member States.
“Law enforcement needs to tackle this development and that is why we are investing heavily in supporting drug-related investigations in Europe,” she said.
“Europol is targeting in particular top-level organized crime groups which are making a lot of money for themselves on the back of their many victims.”
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