French frigate seizes 2.4 tonnes of cocaine off West Africa

Large cocaine seizures worldwide continued this week with a French frigate seizing a large shipment of cocaine from a stateless trawler at a position off the coast of West Africa. An investigation by the Brazilian federal police, the British National Crime Agency (NCA) and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) uncovered the suspected smuggling operation, with support from EU agencies. A 20-metre fishing boat departed the Brazilian coast in mid-September, bound for the West African coastline. The route suggested that the ultimate destination market was in Europe.

On September 21st, a few days before the recent high-profile Irish seizure of a similarly sized load, French Navy frigate Ventôse moved to intercept the fishing vessel as it neared West Africa. With support from a Falcon 50 maritime patrol aircraft and an onboard Dauphin helicopter, a boarding team from Ventôse interdicted the trawler at dawn. The team seized more than 2.4 tonnes of cocaine aboard the trawler.

The French Navy has an ongoing presence in the Gulf of Guinea as part of the European aid to fighting piracy in the region. France maintains one or two patrol vessels in the gulf at almost all times, with support from maritime patrol aircraft. The deployment aligns with the EU’s “coordinated maritime presence” policy, which authorizes member states’ maritime law enforcement operations in overseas regions.

The Brazil-to-West Africa route appears to be an increasingly popular trade lane for the export of cocaine from South American producers to European users. Direct transfers to ports such as Antwerp and Rotterdam have become more difficult as the ports become more skilful in intercepting the contraband. This has made second-tier ports more popular routes into Europe. STS transfers have also been reported. The dogleg route from Brazil to West Africa to Europe has been growing rapidly in volume, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Containerized cocaine shipments from Santos to West Africa rose from just 435kg in 2014 to more than 27 tonnes in 2019, the report claimed.