Italian police seized over 115 kilograms of pure cocaine in the southern port of Gioia Tauro in a major operation against the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, authorities said on Tuesday.
The drug was hidden aboard a cargo ship inside a container carrying paper reels from San Antonio in Chile. The ship reached Gioia Tauro after a stopover in the Panamanian port of Rodman, and its final destination was the port of Livorno in central Italy.
The cocaine seized would have been worth about 23 million euros (26.3 million U.S. dollars) on the market, Italy's finance military police and customs agency carrying out the operation said in a statement.
The Gioia Tauro port in the Calabria region is considered a major hub for international drug trafficking, and is allegedly under the control of the 'Ndrangheta, currently seen as the most powerful of Italy's three traditional mafia organizations.
According to Italy's anti-drug services, most of the cocaine smuggled in Europe has been delivered from South America to Gioia Tauro port in latest years.
"Almost two tons of cocaine have been seized at the Gioia Tauro port alone in 2017," finance police explained on Tuesday.
"According to the analysis of the Central Directorate for Anti-Drug Services (DCSA), this would amount to 80.98 percent of all cocaine seized across the country in the year," they added.
In its annual report released in mid-2018, the DCSA said Gioia Tauro confirmed to be the main entrance for cocaine to Italy. "The analysis of seizures (of cocaine) carried out in this port area in the last 5 years shows an increasing trend with a peak in 2017."
Italy's finance police on Tuesday also sounded an alarm on allegedly unabated efforts of the 'Ndrangheta to find new entry points to the European continent.
"It seems likely the 'Ndrangheta local branches -- which have almost become sole agents for Latin America drug traffickers in Europe -- are constantly looking for new harbors with a relevant traffic volume and, at the same time, more tenuous controls," they wrote.
Police mentioned the ports of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and of Antwerp in Belgium as examples.
In early December, Italian police coordinated an international anti-mafia operation that busted a major 'Ndrangheta drug smuggling and money laundering ring in Europe.
Some 90 suspects -- 70 of whom were Italian nationals -- were arrested in cooperation with police forces in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. Enditem