BERLIN (Reuters) - German customs police expect much more cocaine to flood into Europe in future and have seized nearly five tonnes of the drug in northern sea ports so far this year, more than three times their total in 2016.
Officials seized 3.8 tonnes of cocaine valued at 880 million euros ($1 billion) in three hauls from March to May, a customs spokesman said on Monday, and were working with Dutch and Belgian counterparts, whose cocaine busts are even larger.
Handelsblatt newspaper said the amount of cocaine seized in the Dutch port of Rotterdam and Belgium's Antwerp increased sharply in 2016, totaling a combined 41 tonnes.
"This is a trend we definitely expect to continue," the Central Customs Authority spokesman, Alwin Bogan, said. "We expect cheap cocaine from South America to continue to flood the European market."
Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office said large seizures of cocaine around the world had increased by 72 percent since 2012, with the total reaching 576 tonnes last year.
Prices remained stable however, suggesting that smugglers were able to replace the cocaine without any great problem, Handelsblatt reported.
Drug deaths in Germany are also on the rise, increasing by nine percent to 1,333 in 2016, police officials said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Louise Ireland)