Ecuadorian authorities have seized 3.5 tons of cocaine bound for the UK and the Netherlands, police said on Saturday. Police seized the drugs in two banana containers at separate locations and say they represent the largest drug confiscation ever in a single day.
One shipment contained a total of 2,300 packets of cocaine — each packet weighing a kilo — in 92 boxes. Police intercepted a truck transporting the container as it approached the port of Guayaquil. The other shipment headed for the port in Manta contained 1,218 packets of cocaine, stuffed in 87 banana boxes.
Following the seizures, the national police command said the installation of scanning systems designed to detect illegal drugs will be completed soon. The scanning equipment and training will be provided by authorities from the United States.
Ecuador has increasingly become a hub of drug traffickers shipping drugs to the U.S. and Europe, with the ports of Guayaquil, Manta, Machala and Esmeraldas being the major embarkation points. The government says the trade has led to a crime wave in port cities as Mexican and Colombia drug cartels have moved to manage shipments. The United Nations drug office says Ecuador now ranks third in the world in estimated illegal drug shipments, following Colombia and Mexico.
One of the containers seized Saturday was bound for the UK, while the other was bound for Rotterdam in the Netherlands, police said. Two people have been arrested in connection with the cases and more arrests are expected.
The latest haul comes a day after Ecuadorian police seized cocaine — hidden in 4,800 tuna cans — in an apartment building in Manta.
According to Ecuador’s customs service, most of the cost for the scanning equipment will be borne by exporters. “Exporters of agricultural and seafood products will benefit most from the new system and will bear about 80% of the cost,” a representative for the National Customs Service said. “The government will bear personnel and management costs, with the U.S. government providing training and oversight.”
In a statement, the Ecuadorian Federation of Exporters said it supports activation of the scanning system to “fight against the negative effects that insecurity and drug trafficking leave on the country’s export cargo.” It said that banana exporters, in particular, have unfairly gained a bad reputation due to the large amounts of cocaine concealed in shipments.
The export federation said, however, that it expects the government to work in close collaboration with exporters as it transitions to new scanning protocols. “We expect their assistance as we make this change so it does not add costs to our operations and effect our international competitiveness.”