At the dock, more than 1,000 employees load and unload containers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, closing only on Christmas and New Year’s day. At night, floodlights illuminate the 3.2km-long quay. Pinpointing a few duffle bags of cocaine — the typical shipping method in recent months — among the non-stop cargo shuffle is like trying to find a grain of black sand on a white beach.
The port authority declined to comment on drug smuggling, but investigators say the duffle bags packed with super-pure cocaine weigh between 40kg and 45kg each and are light enough to be lifted by one man. They can be tossed into a container in a Central or South American port and removed quickly at Gioia Tauro before customs officials have a chance to intercept them. The containers are easily resealed to leave no trace.
“The containers are Trojan horses,” said Claudio Petrozziello, commander of the province’s finance police, as container carriers whizzed around the dock behind him.
Each duffle bag of cocaine is worth as much as 2.25 million euros wholesale, and about 9 million euros on the street. Mostly — the Italian Interior Ministry estimates 90 percent of the time — the criminal clan’s bag-man, and not the police, gets to the contraband first.
Nevertheless, finance police and customs authorities are having increasing success. In June last year, finance police found 17 black Jansport bags containing foil-wrapped and vacuum-sealed bricks of South American cocaine. The haul was worth more than 38 million euros wholesale, and at least four times as much on the street. The police are still hunting the smugglers.
In total, the police seized in excess of 2 tonnes of cocaine at the port last year, more than double the amount of 2011, finance police data showed.
Daniele Testi, a spokesman for Contship, the container terminal logistics firm at the port, said: “What is happening in Gioia Tauro is what is happening in all the world’s largest ports. Contship continues to believe that the police must do all they can to fight crime. What we are trying to do is make sure that the business runs smoothly, is successful, and continues to provide jobs.”
A COURAGEOUS MAYOR
The police have made inroads in other areas. In 2008, they planted a bug in a Rosarno laundromat and recorded a conversation between Domenico Oppedisano, a crime boss, and another Mafia suspect.
Oppedisano said there were 250 mobsters in the town of fewer than 15,000 people, according to a transcript of the conversation.
Oppedisano, 82, was later arrested for being the boss of bosses of the ‘Ndrangheta’s estimated 150 clans and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for Mafia membership — a crime in Italy. He denies wrongdoing and is appealing his conviction.
In an attempt to loosen the grip of the Calabrian mob, authorities in Rome dissolved Rosarno’s city council in 2008 because it had been infiltrated by the ‘Ndrangheta. When new mayoral elections were held two years later, Elisabetta Tripodi, who had previously worked as a secretary in city hall, won.
Explaining why she took on such a challenge, Tripodi said: “I did not want Rosarno to be known as a town of racists and mobsters.”