In the framework of Operation Ciconia Alba, EU Member States and third partners joined efforts to counter cocaine trafficking by maritime freight from the Brazilian port of Santos and the Colombian harbours of Barranquilla, Buenaventura, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Turbo.
Law enforcement authorities also targeted cocaine trafficking by air couriers departing from Brazilian Sao Paolo airport, as well as from the main Colombian airports (Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena and Pereira), with an emphasis on actions to prevent rip-offs and cocaine handovers between couriers.
As a result, 2 388 kg of cocaine and 18 individuals were arrested in the course of these joint actions, which were supported in real time from the operational coordination centre located at Europol’s headquarters.
Actions on cocaine trafficking by air were complementary to the Global Airport Action Days – aimed at fighting fraudulent on-line purchases of flight tickets. Law enforcement officers were deployed at the airports in each of the activities mentioned. They provided mutual assistance, which evidenced that sometimes cocaine smuggling crimes are facilitated by payment card fraud activities.
The so-called ‘rip-on/rip-off’ method involves loading the consignment in the port of departure and recovering it in the port of arrival. The use of one or more corrupt employees at both ends is therefore a key element.
A suitable maritime/ container must be identified in South America with a legitimate cargo destined for Europe. The drugs are usually loaded in the containers by the so called ‘rip-on’ team. In most cases the security seal needs to be replaced with a duplicate to avoid obvious signs of tampering.
At the port of arrival, the drugs need to be retrieved, which can be achieved a variety of ways. The drugs can be removed from the container by corrupt port workers or by external teams who gain access to the terminal. After the ‘rip-off’ is complete, the container is either left open or resealed with another false/ duplicate seal.