Italian authorities found nearly two tonnes of cocaine floating in the 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 about 70 waterproof packages which can be seen floating in the sea in images shared by authorities. Each package was carefully sealed and held together by fishing nets and also contained a light device which authorities said allowed the illegal packages to be traced.
The parcels were first spotted by authorities carrying out routine checks. Italian police said they were likely dropped from a merchant vessel and intended to be recovered later and taken ashore.
The two tons of cocaine contained in the packages, grouped in more than 1,600 individual packages, are worth more than 400 million euros, the authorities say.
The operation is one of the largest drug seizures in Italy in nearly 30 years. In 2019, Italian police found sixty bags of cocaine in a container in Genoa that had come from Colombia by sea and were headed for Barcelona. The container was carrying more than two tons of cocaine which according to authorities belonged to various organizations linked to the “Gulf Clan”, a Colombian drug cartel.
It is not yet clear where the recent parcels seized off eastern Sicily came from, nor where they would possibly have been 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. If in 2020 Italy considered a record having seized 13.4 tons of cocaine, this same record was broken twice in the following years. In 2022, Italian police seized 28.1 tons of cocaine, an increase from 2021, when the country seized 20.07 tons of cocaine.
A rise in cocaine seizures in Italy is consistent with a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which says cocaine production has reached its highest level on record. According to the United Nations Global Report on Cocaine 2023, South American drug cartels have taken advantage of the Covid pandemic to produce record quantities of cocaine to be smuggled around the world.
The agency said the use of fishing and cargo vessels, as well as containers on container ships, to smuggle cocaine into Europe was on the rise.