European centre to tackle cocaine smuggling


The UK and six other EU member states yesterday (30 September) opened a new centre to deal with cocaine smuggling in the Atlantic.

Portugal, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands will join the UK in operating the new centre, which will use warships and narcotics officers from each member state to intercept shipments before they reach EU soil. 

The Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N), based in Lisbon, is designed to tackle smugglers bringing drugs into Europe from Latin America and West Africa by deploying troops and police in the right place at the right time. 

MAOC-N will be staffed by professional law enforcement and military personnel posted to Lisbon from the participating countries, and also employs officers from Europol and the US Joint Inter Agency Task Force as observers and to exchange expertise. It will be open to the other 20 EU member states on a similar basis. 

Although officially launched yesterday, the centre started to operate on 25 July and cooperation on cocaine smuggling between these member states has been underway since April. 

A senior member of Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has been named as the centre’s first director. 

The announcement comes amid concerns over Europe’s growing cocaine consumption, which has led to a rise in smuggling runs from South America despite increasing collaboration between EU police forces. 

MAOC-N will coordinate drug smuggling intelligence and involve vessels from each country’s navy. The centre has already coordinated 22 operations and seized over ten tonnes of cocaine during a six-month trial period, said Britain’s Home Office, citing the recent interception of a Brazilian vessel by the French navy acting on British intelligence as typical of the type of action coordinated by the centre. 

It remains unclear whether MAOC-N will lead to EU-wide cooperation on the issue. EU presidency spokesperson Manuel Carvalho said that the centre was set up solely by the seven member states concerned in order to help to them deal with the specific issue of cocaine smuggling in the south Atlantic. 

However, Carvalho explained that MAOC-N is a formal, intergovernmental agreement between EU member states and has produced a treaty that will have to be ratified by the countries involved. 

The initiative is open to any EU member state that wishes to participate, he added. 

Portuguese EU presidency spokesperson Manuel Carvalho said that the MAOC-N was set up by the seven member states concerned in response to "a number of gaps" in the EU policy framework on the south Atlantic. 

Carvalho said that the Commission was present at the official inauguration ceremony on 30 September, insisting that "there is no overlap" between EU policy and cooperation under MAOC-N. "It is not a question of competition between this and EU policy," he added. 

Vernon Croker, UK Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs dealing with policing and security measures, said that MAOC-N "will help [Britain] target cocaine smugglers by sharing intelligence with other countries and coordinating rapid air and sea operations, making the best use of law enforcement and military resources to stop attempted drug runs across the Atlantic". 

"By taking an active role in this innovative drug trafficking centre we are cutting down the pathways used by those serious criminals attempting to infest our country with cocaine," he added. 

The idea was first put forward by the French government in 2005, but did not gather enough support to get off the ground, said Portuguese presidency spokesperson Manuel Carvalho. 

The existing EU policy framework concerning security in the Atlantic does not go far enough to satisfy some member states, and the creation of the new centre "fills in the gaps" for those member states who wish to cooperate further, he added. 

  • 2005: France first puts forward idea of cooperation on drug smuggling in the Atlantic. 
  • April 2007: The seven countries concerned begin informal cooperation on the issue. 
  • 25 July 2007: The MAOC-N centre opens in Lisbon. 
  • 30 Sept. 2007: Official inauguration of the MAOC-N centre, in the presence of the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs of the seven member states concerned and representatives of the European Commission. 
  • Oct. 2007: British Director of MAOC-N to assume his position. 

Subscribe to our newsletters