Criminals entered a customs depot in the Waasland port on Friday evening, possibly to steal drugs that had already been seized. According to Stephan Van Fraechem of employers’ federation Alfaport, the port of Antwerp urgently needs to step up its game in terms of security.
What happened Friday night?
“Some people entered the Customs and Food Agency (FAVV) office on the Left Bank. Perhaps it concerns a drug gang that tried to regain possession of some of the drugs that had already been seized. Two customs employees were allegedly gagged and threatened with a knife. We will have to wait until the investigation is completed for more information.”
What security is there normally at that post?
“It is a closed area with fences and barriers. You are not supposed to just walk in there. Is there normally no police present? It is a customs area. Although the shipping police office is nearby. Customs has a control task in any case. Theoretically they are authorized to bear arms. You regularly see this during inspections in the port. Customs will not share with the outside world how they further protect themselves or what the protocols are with the shipping police.”
How could this happen?
“That will be part of an investigation. The only thing I can say about that is that it is noticeable that drug gangs have become more violent in recent months. Last month, police crashed a van carrying people who may also have wanted to steal confiscated drugs. Then we are no longer talking about light facts. I am now anticipating the facts, but it seems as if drug gangs have changed their modus operandi. Every time we close a gap in the hedge, they prove flexible enough to find another opening.”
Trade union ACV demands more security for customs staff. Is that a fair question?
“I’m not going to comment on that, because I don’t know what the internal organization of customs is. However, I am convinced that we must increase the security of the port of Antwerp. Compared to the port of Rotterdam, we still have a lot of catching up to do. The port is actually public domain, but three to four times larger than the center of Antwerp.
“One of the things that is missing now is the deterrent effect of the police. I know there are officers who do their best. But the area they have to secure is enormous. Agreed, Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) has established the port security corps. But that won’t happen overnight.”
What are the companies in the port doing to increase security?
“We have made a lot of efforts over the past five to six years to better secure the terminals where containers are unloaded and loaded. We try everything to make it harder to get in there. Consider extra cameras, but also extra access controls. The system that used to exist, based on an identity card, was quite susceptible to fraud. This has been expanded to include biometric data: people who want access to the terminals must also provide their fingerprints and an iris scan.
“But just like the government, companies are also confronted with the danger of infiltration: people who try to work within a company, or employees who are approached. In addition to physical support – think of someone who can move a load of drugs – drug gangs also need information about where which container will be located, what the procedures are, how it will be picked up, and so on. So we started an awareness campaign among dock workers to make it clear to them what they should pay attention to or what could be suspicious questions.”
Anyone who wants to know more about the awareness campaign can visit www.onzehavendrugsvrij.be.