Spanish authorities have seized almost eight metric tonnes of cocaine from two South American boats.
In one of the largest drugs bust in the country’s history, Spanish customs officers cooperated with police from Ecuador to intercept one freighter off the coast of the Latin American country that was heading to Spain with 5.5 metric tonnes of cocaine on board.
A separate operation resulted in the recovery of 2.4 metric tonnes of cocaine from a Venezuelan fishing boat that was also travelling to Spain.
Officials said the crew of the boat carrying the larger shipment loaded their vessel with Columbian cocaine in the Pacific Ocean, and had planned to make their way through the Panama Canal before crossing the Atlantic to Europe.
The Venezuelan ship was stopped in the Atlantic Ocean as part of a joint operation conducted by Spanish police, the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
Based on prices in some parts of Europe, both shipments would have had a combined value of well in excess of €350 million to the organised crime groups that arranged their trafficking.
Investigators suspect the crew of Venezuelan boat had turned back from Europe after being unable to deliver their illicit cargo at the time they were intercepted.
The separate operations resulted in the arrest of both boats’ crews, which included in their number at least one Spanish national.
Officials said the larger of the two shipments was organised by a Galician organised crime group, adding that two people were also arrested in Madrid and another two in Vigo in connection with the operation.
Speaking with Spanish daily El Pais, Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignocio Zoido said the Ecuadorean bust was one of the biggest cocaine seizures in history, and that a total of 24 people had been arrested in connection with the interception.
Commenting on the raid on the Venezuelan vessel, NCA Deputy Director Chris Farrimond said: “This boat was using a well-known transit route for cocaine headed from South America to Europe, and NCA officers played a crucial role in having it intercepted.
“Given the size of the haul here it is almost certain that at least some of it would have ended up in the UK, and having it taken out in this manner will be damaging for the organised criminal networks involved.”
That shipment, which was estimated to be worth more than €175 million, was intercepted in international waters off the coast of Suriname by officers from the US Coast Guard, Trinidad & Tobago police and investigators from the NCA.