Companies struggling with drug crimes in the Port of Rotterdam

The drug mafia has penetrated the Rotterdam port. Criminals hide drugs in shipping containers, then break in to retrieve the drugs once the container has arrived in Rotterdam. Transhipment companies are reeling from the aftermath of the damage. These problems were first reported in a newsletter by the management of the Hutchison Ports ECT to its the staff. Other transhipment companies are in fact dealing with the same problem.

How big is the problem?
There are hundreds of trucks per hour picking up and setting down containers on the 65-hectare site. In total, 2,500 people are employed in the largest terminal in the Port of Rotterdam. This poses a challenge when it comes to checking all the containers.

Incidents are piling up: twelve intruders in a week is nothing new. Containers are often found open, with leftovers from criminals who camped inside long enough to move drugs from one container to another.

Companies paying high costs
Companies do not usually share information on security costs. Customarily, companies faced with such a dilemma have been known to move only when the safety of their personnel was at stake, especially if the cause of insecurity was a social problem. Therefore, “we just don’t know how big the problem is,” says Bas Janssen, director of port entrepreneur organization Deltalinqs.

Agro Merchants, a company specialized in the transport of fruit, has become a sought-after hub for criminals to get cocaine ashore. “It got completely out of hand. We gradually had to do more work on repairing the damage than on our normal work,” declared the director of Agro Merchants, Piet Hein Horstmeier. Increased surveillance and damage repairs cost the company € 350.000, a lot of money for a fairly small business.

Work disruption and insufficient protection
Employees are not happy with what is going on. Work normally has to stop for hours to give the police time to investigate. These delays lead to containers being processed late. If these delays happen too often, shipping companies will choose a different terminal, because their cargo is not shipped on time. And when the investigation does not lead to a police arrests, the environment is still unsafe for employees.

Trust between employees has eroded, because intruders cannot operate without receiving information from inside the port organization. Employees are eyeing each other as possible suspects for criminal activity. Most of them believe that criminals will do everything possible to avoid getting caught.

Koninklijke Roeiers Vereniging Eendracht (KRVE), the oldest company in the port, known as ‘the rowers’, is the eyes and ears of the harbour, providing intel on what is happening on the waters. However, its employees are scared to report suspicious activities to the authorities. Attorneys for the suspects sometimes demand the identities of the witnesses be revealed, with the especial aim of creating fear, driving witnesses to retract their statements.

“If you, as a simple dockworker with a family and a mortgage, know that you will be known by name to these criminals, you will think twice before you report,” said Erik de Neef, CEO of KRVE. A van waiting near the schoolyard of a witness’s children for days was a very effective method to scare off witnesses. “Intimidation works. For that reason, about 99% of observations are not reported,” he added.

How to move forward?
Companies are working more closely with government agencies to solve the problem. Project Integere Haven (Honest Port) has increased the awareness regarding port security. “You can now see this movement everywhere, including at large terminals and therefore also container transhipment companies. Companies that do not want to participate are starting to lag behind,” added Janssen.

Recently, 250 extra surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the port. The business community is moving as well, with the first fully automatic terminals already put into use. Apart from technology and the legal extension of powers, the Customs Office is calling on companies active in the port to put into place stronger internal control mechanisms.

Written by Stephen Swai