A Dutch cargo ship flying the Panama flag has been seized in the Italian port of Palermo with 20 tons of hashish on board, with a market value of up to 200 million euros, probably destined for the European market. The discovery was made by officers of the Italian financial guard (GdF) from the Sicilian capital, with the operational support of the naval aviation group of Messina and the collaboration of the centralised crime investigation service.
The drugs were found in the vessel’s fuel storage compartments, contained in 650 jute bags, each bearing the type and quality of the substance.It took firefighters 14 hours to remove the hashish from the ship, after it had been brought into dock at Palermo and inspected by investigators for six days.
The ship, called Remus, which is officially responsible for rescuing other ships in need of refueling at sea, had left the port of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Spain, and its final destination was Tezla, Turkey. But along the way it made a stop in the Sicilian port of Augusta before departing for Palermo, where it was intercepted and blocked.
It was immediately suspected that the Remus was involved in drug trafficking originating in North Africa, and was followed by air and by sea by the offshore patrols of the financial guard. Suspicions were aroused by the ships unusual activity, including repeatedly turning off its Automated Identification System transmitter, to hide its movements and position at sea.
The ship’s captain and the 11 crew members, who are all citizens of Montenegro, were arrested and face charges of international drug trafficking.
“The Mediterranean Sea again is confirmed to be one of the world’s largest arteries for illegal trafficking,” Italian police said in a statement, crediting “attentive intelligence gathering” for the successful operation.