By Vanessa Buschschlüter
Police in Ecuador have found almost 8.8 tonnes of cocaine in a shipment of bananas bound for Belgium.
Police commander Fausto Salinas said the drugs would have been worth an estimated $330m (£275m) had they reached their destination.
Ecuador has become one of the main transit countries for cocaine produced in neighbouring Peru and Colombia.
Last year, more than 200 tonnes of the drug were seized in the Andean country, much of it in the port of Guayaquil.
With Ecuador the world’s largest exporter of bananas, smugglers often try to hide their illegal consignments among the fruit which is shipped from Guayaquil to destinations all over the globe.
This latest haul was found inside a container full of banana cases destined for Belgium.
The seizure coincides with a visit by Belgium’s Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden and European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson to Ecuador and Colombia.
The two officials want to strengthen cooperation with the two South American nations in the fight against drug trafficking.
Belgium has become the country where the largest quantities of cocaine have been seized within the European Union in recent years, with the port of Antwerp the main entry point for the illegal drug.
The director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Alexis Gosdeel, said earlier this month that the “growing flow of cocaine now threatens the entire European Union”.
“I am deeply concerned that the expanding EU cocaine market is bringing a rise in violence and corruption on public institutions and governance,” he warned.
In Ecuador, violence linked to drug smuggling has skyrocketed as powerful Mexican cartels have infiltrated local gangs to gain control of the lucrative business.
Prisons are overflowing and fights between rival gangs behind bars have left scores dead.