Africa is becoming one of the main bases in the international cocaine trafficking network, particularly because the cartels are using countries there as storage locations or waystations via which the illicit product is being shipped on fishing boats from South America to Europe, Spanish Drug and Organized Crime Unit, or UDYCO, chief Eloy Quiros said in an interview with Efe.

The Colombian cartels see Africa and its lengthy western coast as an ideal entry route to the European market, Quiros said.

In August, authorities set a record by seizing five tons of cocaine in different operations.

The most significant of those hauls was made on Aug. 15, when the Special Operations Group, or GEO, in cooperation with other police agencies, intercepted a cargo ship loaded with 3,000 kilos (about 3.3 tons) of cocaine that had set sail from the Gulf of Guinea heading for the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia.

Such a large shipment of the drug is "very unusual," since the majority of the drug trafficking networks prefer not to take the risk and tend to focus on trying to smuggle quantities of just 100 or 200 kilos of cocaine at a time in containers, Quiros said.

The operations demonstrate that the drug trafficking organizations have a hold on the African route and are using it to try to get the drug to Europe, Quiros said.

The cartels have forsaken the Mediterranean route, which is much more heavily monitored, mainly across the Strait of Gibraltar, and have ruled out shipping via the North Sea due to the very harsh weather conditions there.

The smuggling vessels can sail along the African coast without making stops, blending in among the fishing boats that operate there along the route between Africa and Europe, or even using African countries such as Guinea-Bissau and Guinea as transit zones where they temporarily stash the merchandise before transferring it to other boats in smaller quantities, Quiros said.

Interpol in 2007 warned that the west coast of Africa was beginning to rival the Caribbean Sea route as maritime entry conduits for introducing cocaine to Europe and the United States, respectively, and five years later the African route is well-established.

"Logically, the cartels function as a commercial business and are changing their strategies, and now what is prevailing is Africa," Quiros said, adding that whether or not the quantities are higher, the owners of the drug continue to be Colombians and their aim is to get the coke to the U.S. and European markets.

In that regard, the African continent provides the Colombian drug networks with many advantages, given that the countries there - besides not having the police capabilities to effectively fight against drug trafficking - suffer from growing levels of corruption and armed groups who could be financing themselves with drug smuggling.

Success against the illicit drug trade is not rooted in just preventing drugs from getting to their destinations but also in "dismantling networks, achieving convictions, sending them to jail and seizing their wealth," Quiros said. EFE