A British tanker has helped seize high-purity cocaine worth an estimated €46 million after a six-hour chase in the Caribbean.
Crew members on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Wave Knight set off in pursuit of a gang of smugglers after a patrol plane reported suspicious speedboat activity in the sea between Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
A Royal Navy helicopter was despatched in an attempt to persuade the traffickers to stop their boat and give themselves up. After those on the speedboat ignored a series of warning shots, a sniper positioned in the back of the helicopter took out the vessel’s engine.
The US Coast Guard then moved in to arrest the smugglers, only to find them attempting to throw their shipment of cocaine overboard. After being detained, the five traffickers were taken aboard US Coast Guard cutter Richard Etheridge, before being handed over to authorities in Miami Beach. The smugglers’ speedboat later sank.
Captain Nigel Budd, Wave Knight’s commanding officer, commented: “This seizure highlights how effectively the US Coast Guard, we and our allies are working together to disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks that depend on the flow of illicit drugs from South America into the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe.”
Mike Penning, British Minister of State for the Armed Forces, said: “This high-speed intervention shows how the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Navy are making a difference around the world to tackle threats wherever they occur.”
The operation took place around two weeks ago, but details have only just been released due to US legal processes.
In March this year, the US State Department’s 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) revealed that seventeen Latin American and Caribbean nations had been identified by the US as “major illicit drug producing and/or drug-transit countries”. Many criminal gangs attempt to smuggle drugs from the region to the west coast of Ireland, from where they can then be distributed to other European markets.
The report noted how countries from Bolivia to Venezuela are either major drug producers themselves, or act as key transit points from where substances can be shipped to other parts of the world, including Europe and the US.
In September 2014, a gang of four men were arrested for attempting to smuggle a tonne of cocaine worth at least €80 million into the Republic of Ireland on a yacht from the Caribbean. Dawne Powell, James Hill, David Webster and Philip McElhone were jailed for between three and 11 years at Leeds Crown Court the following year. Sentencing the men, Judge James Spencer QC described their plot as “colossal and mind boggling”.