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Europol Reveals How Organized Crime Infiltrates Major European Ports

Joint analysis report reveals how criminal networks exploit misappropriated container reference codes to smuggle drugs and illegal goods into the EU.

Europol has released a joint analysis report examining the risks and challenges posed by criminal networks in EU ports, highlighting the increasing focus of criminal organizations on major logistical hubs, such as ports, in their quest for growing profits and expanding their illegal activities.

The report, conducted in collaboration with the Security Steering Committee of the ports of Antwerp, Hamburg/Bremerhaven and Rotterdam, sheds light on the use of misappropriated container reference codes, also known as PIN code fraud, as a growing trend among criminal networks to extract illicit goods from ports. The report also highlights the coordination of local networks of corrupted port insiders as a key tactic for the infiltration of ports.

Europe’s three biggest ports, namely those in Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, are among the most targeted by criminal infiltration, requiring the corruption of a large number of accomplices. The report highlights the need for law enforcement to adapt to new modus operandi employed by criminal networks, such as the exploitation of misappropriated container reference codes.

The report also notes the rise in violence stemming from criminal operations in ports and the competition for distribution.

Recommendations made in the report include enhanced international information exchange on criminal networks’ activities in ports, integration of security features in the design of port infrastructure, and public-private partnerships to involve all port actors essential for tackling the infiltration of criminal networks in EU ports.

“Criminal networks work closely to evade security at land borders and at air and maritime ports,” said Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle. “They have one thing in mind – profit. An effective response is closer collaboration between the public and private sector; this will make both sides stronger.”

The report underscores the need for stronger collaboration between the public and private sector to combat organised crime, which works closely to evade security measures. 

Maritime ports in the EU handle some 90 million containers each year, but authorities are only able to inspect between 2% and 10% of them, leaving ample opportunity for criminal networks to exploit logistical hubs.

The report has received the backing of Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs.

“The Europol report on criminal networks in ports illustrates what we are up against,” said Commissioner Johansson. “It lays bare the sophistication of criminal drug gangs, their strength, and their savagery. The drug traffickers promote corrupt actions and practices sometimes by bribery, sometimes by intimidation. We are working with authorities at all levels to strengthen systems in the fight against the criminal activity this report outlines.”

The report concludes that deeper knowledge is the most effective weapon against organized crime, as vulnerabilities in EU ports represent a challenge for law enforcement and an opportunity for criminal networks.

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