Looks can be deceiving: successful drug busts in the port of Rotterdam are only the tip of the iceberg

Foto van Robby Roks

Drug busts in the port of Rotterdam are an everyday occurrence. More than 110 tons of cocaine have been intercepted by a special team in the past five years. Is this prove of an excellent investigation strategy? Or are these busts only the tip of the iceberg? According to Robby Roks, Associate Professor of Criminology at Erasmus School of Law, the latter is the case. In an article by Rijnmond, Roks elaborates on the causes of this issue.

Interceptions barely have an effect

Roks agrees that the investigation into drug trafficking has improved over the past decades. For example, the HARC-team (Hit and Run Cargo), a collaboration between the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service, Customs, Police and Justice, was established over twenty years ago, and the number of arrests has since increased. Nonetheless, it is still hard to say what share of drug trafficking is being intercepted. “It is hard to know about the things that are not visible to the public eye. The estimates are between one and ten per cent.” Also, the interceptions do not seem to affect the market: “It is worth noting that the pureness of the cocaine on the market has improved. This suggests that the supply is sufficient”, according to Roks.

Low risk high reward

In Roks’ opinion, the punishments for contributing to drug trafficking should be more stringent. After arrival in Rotterdam, the people who collect the drugs out of the containers get relatively small fines and are released by the police after only a few hours, when they get caught. As a result, the risk for traffickers is fairly low. According to Roks, the investigative authorities also criticise the mild sanctions: “They highlight the more severe punishments in England, and do not understand why there seems to be no difference in punishments between the smuggling of 400 and 4000 kilos in the Netherlands.” The Dutch Senate is currently looking at new legislation that should fix this problem.

The Netherlands is drug country #1

The most important reason that the Netherlands has to deal with so much drug trafficking is its geographical location. The port of Rotterdam is the gateway of Europe. In addition, Rotterdam historically has permanent lines of transport: “Traditionally, there have been fruit transports from Latin America. They can be compared to bus routes. The first stop of this route is usually Rotterdam. That is convenient for drug traffickers, as the transportation lines are already in place.” Thanks to the location of Rotterdam, the port has become a vast venue, which is helpful for these criminals. As only a tiny percentage of the millions of containers that come through the port of Rotterdam every year are being checked.


Drug-related crime and the violence that accompanies  governments create this by ventures like the war on drugs. Some say that cocaine should be legalised so that the government could regulate the sale in the same manner as tobacco. Politicians, however, do not seem to be ready for such a big step; for example, the Dutch party CDA recently plead for the following: “This is the time to press ahead. We should make an end to drug-related crime once and for all.”

According to Roks, that is just not feasible: “The demand for drugs will not disappear, that is a fact. You can not eliminate drug trafficking; you can contain it at best.”

Associate professor
More information

Click here for the entire article by Rijnmond (Dutch).

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