Two suspected drug traffickers were forced to call the police on themselves after they were locked in stifling heat in a shipping container packed with cocaine at the port of Antwerp.
The two men, aged 24 and 25, had to make an emergency call to the police, during which they said they had been “trapped” while trying to take possession of the drugs.
It took two hours for the police to locate the correct container at the port of Antwerp, which is the second largest in the world.
Armed police opened the container to find the men stripped to their waists and dehydrated in the extreme heat of last week.
The men became stuck last Wednesday, on one of the hottest days recorded in Belgium, with temperatures exceeding 40C. On being released they had cold water thrown over them to bring down their temperatures. They were not fit for immediate interrogation.
The men were imprisoned after being brought before an investigating judge, the Antwerp public prosecutor said in a statement.
The prosecutor’s office referred to the discovery of “a lot of cocaine” in the container. The local Gazet van Antwerpen newspaper, which released a video of the arrest, said the amount was “hundreds of kilograms”.
Kristof Aerts, a spokesman at the Antwerp public prosecutor’s office, said: “Around 10.30am, the emergency centre received a call from two men. They said they were locked up in a container on quay 1742 and that they were in the process of taking [possession of] a drug.
“The container could be located and the two men from Antwerp and Schoten were released around 12.20pm. Cocaine was found in the container, but the exact amount is not yet clear.”
In June, two men, aged 33 and 35, were arrested from a container at the same location after being discovered by dockers who had locked them up. About 882kg of cocaine was found.
The port of Antwerp is increasingly seen as the main gateway for the cocaine trade into Europe. In one routine check in June, customs officers discovered three tonnes of the drug in a consignment of rice.
A total of 50 tonnes of cocaine with a street value of €2.5bn was seized at the port in 2018, compared with 8.1 tonnes in 2014. A further 4.4 tonnes of heroin was seized, along with 16.8 tonnes of cannabis and 8 tonnes of opiates.
Last year the mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever, said the scale of smuggling at the port of Antwerp – through which half of Europe’s supply of cocaine reportedly passes – was so vast that corruption of local politics was becoming inevitable.
De Wever said people on benefits were accumulating vast property portfolios while “entrepreneurs who are less than 30 years old ... build banquet halls of 2,000 sq metres, completely finished in marble”.
The mayor, who is also the leader of Belgium’s Flemish nationalist party, the N-VA, added: “The port is as leaky as a colander … The cash that we handle in the cocaine trade is enormous.”