BERLIN -- German customs officials have found more than 16 metric tons (17.6 U.S. tons) of cocaine in containers that arrived in Hamburg from Paraguay, authorities said Wednesday. Another 7.2 metric tons (7.9 U.S. tons) of cocaine were seized in Belgium and a suspect was arrested in the Netherlands.
The Hamburg customs office described the find in the German port as the biggest quantity of cocaine ever seized in Europe and one of the biggest single seizures worldwide. The Dutch national prosecutors' office, referring to the overall haul, said that "never before has so much cocaine been intercepted” in a single operation.
The drugs were found in a search on Feb. 12 of five containers from Paraguay that had been flagged as suspect in a risk analysis by several European customs authorities, the Hamburg office said. They had detected “clear irregularities" in three containers, which were loaded with putty in tin cans but appeared also to contain other wares.
Customs officers found the cocaine hidden in more than 1,700 cans.
The freight document linked to the shipment was addressed to a 28-year-old man in the Dutch town of Vlaardingen, who was arrested Wednesday, prosecutors in the Netherlands said.
Investigations prior to his arrest led Dutch authorities to another shipment of containers that were on their way from Panama to the Belgian port of Antwerp.
A search by Belgian customs officials on Saturday uncovered 7.2 metric tons of cocaine hidden in a container of wood blocks.
The total haul in Hamburg and Antwerp — more than 23 metric tons (25 U.S. tons) — would have had a street value of “several billion euros,” according to the Hamburg customs office.
Using a different measure of price, Dutch prosecutors estimated the wholesale value of the combined shipments at some 600 million euros ($730 million).
The announcement of the cocaine haul came a day after Dutch prosecutors said they cooperated with Britain’s National Crime Agency to intercept more than 1.5 metric tons (1.7 U.S. tons) of heroin worth 45 million euros at Rotterdam’s port in a container full of Himalayan salt that originated in Pakistan.
Dutch police arrested five suspects on suspicion of involvement in the drug transport, which they said was the largest heroin cargo ever intercepted in the Netherlands.
Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg are the European Union's three busiest freight ports.
Mike Corder contributed to this report from The Hague, Netherlands.