Acting on intelligence from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), Spanish border authorities seized nearly four tonnes of cocaine worth an estimated $260 million (€221.62 million) from a tugboat travelling across the Atlantic Ocean last Friday.
The vessel was intercepted by Spanish customs officers and officials from the NCA some 400 miles from the Spanish coast at a point between Madeira and the Azores islands.
After boarding and searching the boat, investigators discovered 165 individual packages of cocaine, each of which contained 23kgs of the drug.
The powder, which was found hidden in what was described as a sophisticated concealment beneath the vessel’s galley floor, weighed a total of 3,700kgs.
The intended final destination of the haul remains unclear.
In a statement, the NCA said the Cormoros-flagged tugboat was towed into the Spanish port of Cadiz on Friday afternoon following the arrest of its seven male crew members, six of whom were from Turkey, and one who was from Azerbaijan.
Last week’s operation was coordinated from the multi-national Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) in Lisbon, an involved police and customs officers from Spain, as well as operatives from the NCA.
NCA spokesperson Mark Blackwell said. “Seizing this quantity of cocaine represents a major disruption to international crime groups, depriving them of revenue potentially running into the hundreds of millions of pounds.
“We’re working with colleagues in Europe and around the world to disrupt organised criminals in any way we can, and to protect UK and European borders from attempts to smuggle illegal commodities through them.”
News of the operation came days after customs authorities in Portugal revealed they had arrested two men after finding 400kgs of cocaine on yacht travelling on the Atlantic Ocean.
In another interception based on intelligence provided by the NCA, the boat was stopped by officers from Portugal’s Navy and Air Force 120 miles out to sea as it approached the final leg of its journey to Europe from the Caribbean.
Portuguese authorities said it was likely the shipment and the yacht’s crew were linked to a transnational criminal organisation with interests in several countries across Europe and Latin America., as they displayed the seized cocaine on a seawall in the southern town of Portimao.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the NCA said: “A joint NCA and Portuguese law enforcement and military operation has resulted in the interdiction of a yacht carrying 400kgs of cocaine across the Atlantic.
“Working alongside Portuguese partners, the Italian registered vessel was identified and tracked as it travelled from the Caribbean on a transatlantic route before it was stopped and boarded by assets from Portuguese Navy and Airforce.”
In May this year, Spanish customs officers seized almost eight metric tonnes of cocaine from two South American boats, both of which had either travelled on or were planning to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.