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Photo: Spain’s Interior Guard

Ship drug bust nets 3.3 tons of cocaine

PortandTerminal.com, February 19, 2019

Lisbon, Portugal – Spanish police working in collaborations with Portuguese counterparts have busted a drug-smuggling gang that used ocean-going cargo ships to transport narcotics, arrested 11 gang members and seized 3.3 tons of high-grade cocaine after raiding a vessel off Portugal, a statement said Friday.

The seizure of the 3.3 tonnes of cocaine – thought to be worth around $148 million at European street prices – took place on the high seas when security forces boarded the smuggling ship 150 nautical miles off the country’s coast.

The investigation into the gang, which started in 2017, was led by Spanish authorities.

The bust took place on Jan. 30 and the ship was traveling to Europe from South America. It was then transferred to the port of Setubal, 50 kilometers south of Lisbon.

The busted organization’s mode of operation consisted in collecting the cocaine from South America and then setting sail to Europe in international waters.

Once they arrived at a predetermined point at sea, the cocaine was brought out of its hiding place and unloaded onto fast boats either by using the ship’s supply crane or a zip-line.

Once the transfers were complete, the small high-powered speedboats would set a course to the coast and deliver their cargo into Spain and elsewhere in Europe.

Of the 11 arrested, eight were from the Ukraine, one from Georgia, one from the Netherlands and one French.

Authorities found 80 bales of pure cocaine stored inside a hidden-compartment on the cargo ship’s top deck , all of them equipped with hooks to facilitate transfer to smaller boats.

In December a study by the EU drugs agency revealed that new gangs are muscling into cocaine markets in Europe, setting up smuggling networks straight from producers in Latin America to consumers.

Rising supplies of purer cocaine to Europe are mainly the result of growing production in Latin America, especially by the biggest producer, Colombia. Global cocaine production reached a record high of an estimated 1,410 tonnes in 2016, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

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