Fishing ports in western Jutland have become a major gateway for narcotics coming into Europe, according to a report by Danish broadcaster TV2, which alleges that Dutch fishing vessels landing to Hanstholm and Thyborøn are bringing more than just fish.
According to TV2’s extensive report, carried out over an extended period in both the Danish ports and in Urk in the Netherlands, a number of beam trawlers have become caught up in a smuggling ring in which their role is to pick up packages dropped in the North Sea by cargo vessels, reportedly generally shipping fruit from South America to Europe.
The reason for using these Danish ports on the west coast is that monitoring is minimal in these places, although the report indicates that this activity is common knowledge on the quays but threats, intimidation and beatings are handed out to anyone who steps out of line. Packages of cocaine washing up on Danish beaches have become almost commonplace in recent years. TV2 claims that a Dutch police source has confirmed the involvement of Dutch fishing vessels in this international drug trade – and there have been a number of convictions in the Netherlands in 2014, 2015 and 2017 involving fishing vessels and fishing companies from the north of Holland.
A key reason for Dutch fishermen being involved – and TV2’s report specifically singles out the fishing port of Urk – is that this fishery has struggled in recent years, due to high fuel costs, the effects of Covid and Brexit, and other factors. Financial difficulties have left these fishermen highly vulnerable to coercion, initially with the offer of a generous payout for collecting a small amount – after which there is intimidation and no real choice but to collect and deliver increasingly larger amounts of narcotics.
According to the TV station’s allegations, use of monitoring systems demonstrates that a number of the roughly thirty Dutch beamers that have landed to the Danish ports have operating patterns that differ from the rest, notably in spending time away from the usual fishing grounds and on courses that take them on courses that intersect with those of large merchant vessels. Due to the nature of fishing vessel operation, these apparently random patterns have not up to now attracted attention.
TV2 stresses in its report that a minority of the beam trawlers operating in this area are involved with the illegal trade.
The investigation understands that the drugs are shipped to the Netherlands, using the same route as the trawlers’ catches, before being distributed to markets across Europe.
TV2’s investigation, carried out over many months, led the team to speak to a number of people involved in this illegal trade who stated that those ultimately behind the smuggling ring are criminal gangs based in Amsterdam. Understandably, TV2’s sources all demanded anonymity – for obvious reasons – claiming that those behind this business don’t hesitate to use violence.