Authorities in Belgium pulled in a massive catch on Saturday after they recovered a ton of cocaine that was spotted floating 15 miles off the Belgian port of Ostend in the North Sea.
A pilot boat that transports personnel to and from ships noticed duffel bags laden with 16 sealed packages containing the drug while conducting maneuvers in the area. Maritime police used a tugboat with a crane to collect the contraband bring it ashore. The investigation has since been handed over to the prosecutor in Bruges.
The loot weighed in at more than 2,100 pounds and has an estimated street value of 50 million euros ($56 million). To evade customs, smugglers have been increasingly tossing illegal goods over the sides of shipping vessels to be retrieved by accomplices trailing behind. This is the third such discovery in recent weeks — 2,650 pounds of cocaine were found in the sea in December, along with another 1,770 pounds in January.
« As the chance of getting caught in the ports increases, criminals are trying out other, sometimes novel, methods in order to avoid the classic controls, » Belgian magistrate Ken Witmas remarked to local newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. « More and more traffickers are trying it and this is a growing phenomenon with us. »
The « queen of Belgian seaside resorts, » as Ostend is affectionately known in Belgium, has become a transit point for French dealers who go there to buy drugs smuggled in from the Netherlands.
Former undercover French customs officer Marc Fiévet infiltrated several major international drug rings during his time in the field, during which he developed close knowledge of their distribution methods.