Belgian prosecutors are confirming that they are investigating an armed assault that took place aboard a bulker arriving in port last week. Details are stretchy but it is being linked to another possible case of drug smuggling with the smugglers assaulting the crew possibly in search of the hidden narcotics. There was a similar incident in France in 2021 when a crew was taken hostage by an armed gang looking for hidden narcotics being smuggled on a different vessel.
This incident involved a bulker registered in the Marshall Islands and managed by GS Maritime of Piraeus, Greece. The Stella GS arrived at the anchorage off Antwerp on February 11 and the following day proceeded into the port at Ghent, Belgium. It was there possibly on February 15 that two armed men boarded the vessel and assaulted at least one of the crewmembers. The seafarer was reportedly knocked to the deck while several were beaten.
The public prosecutor’s office confirms that police responded to the ship. “There has been an intervention by the police following an armed incident,” is all the authorities would tell the local media. They said the investigation was ongoing into the circumstances.
The Belgian media is reporting that the two individuals were able to escape after the incident aboard the 32,250 dwt vessel. They are however saying that the police found several kilos of cocaine apparently aboard the vessel.
AIS data indicates that the bulker was permitted to leave Belgium the following day. She arrived on Sunday at the anchorage at Rostock in Eastern Germany. She had traveled to Europe from a port call in Altamira, Mexico at the beginning of January and then Barranquilla, Columbia before heading to Belgium.
A similar incident took place in the anchorage off Normandy in October 2021 when 10 armed intruders boarded a vessel named Trudy, taking the crew hostage and searching the vessel. They left after about four hours reportedly empty handed. Ten days earlier French police had reported one of their largest seizures of cocaine, finding at least a ton aboard the ship and arresting 19 of the crewmembers. In that case after the incident in France, the Trudy proceeded to Antwerp and then Rotterdam where during a routine search police found an additional 529 kilos of cocaine.
Drug smuggling was also blamed for a December 2022 incident aboard the MSC Loretta, a containership that was forced to abort a port call in Antwerp due to a bomb threat. Two individuals were arrested for making the fake bomb threat while police searching the vessel weeks later found 2.4 tons of cocaine hidden on the ship.
Antwerp with its large trade with South America has also developed a reputation as one of the centers of drug smuggling into Europe. Authorities reported in 2022 that Antwerp and neighboring Rotterdam were the centers for cocaine smuggling.