Italian authorities found almost two tonnes of cocaine floating at sea off the island of Sicily in what the Guardia di Finanza – the country’s tax and customs police – called a “record” seizure on Monday.
The drugs were stored in some 70 waterproof packages which can be seen floating in the sea in pictures shared by authorities. Every package was carefully sealed and kept together by fishing nets, and also containing a luminous device which authorities said allowed the illegal parcels to be tracked.
The packages were first spotted by authorities doing routine checks. Italian police said that they were likely dropped by a cargo ship, and intended to be recovered later and brought to land.
The two tonnes of cocaine contained in the packages, bundled in more than 1,600 individual packs, is worth more than €400 million, authorities say.
The operation is one of Italy’s largest seizures of narcotics in almost 30 years. In 2019, Italian police found sixty bags of cocaine in a container in Genoa that had come from Colombia by boat and that was headed to Barcelona. The container was transporting more than two tonnes of cocaine which authorities said belonged to various organisations linked to the “Gulf Clan”, a Colombian drug cartel.
It’s not yet clear where the recent packages seized off eastern Sicily came from, or where they would eventually be delivered.
The number of cocaine seizures in Italy has been growing rapidly since 2020, according to the latest data shared by the country’s authorities. While in 2020 Italy considered a record to have seized 13.4 tonnes of cocaine, this same record got broken twice in the following years. In 2022, Italian police seized 28.1 tonnes of cocaine, a surge from 2021, when the country seized 20.07 tonnes of cocaine.
A surge in cocaine seizures in Italy is consistent with a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stating that cocaine production was at its highest level on record. According to the UN’s Global Report on Cocaine 2023, South American drug cartels have taken advantage of the Covid pandemic for producing record amounts of cocaine to smuggle around the world.
The agency said that the use of fishing and merchant vessels, as well as containers on container ships, to smuggle cocaine into Europe is on the rise.