The first “narco sub” in European waters has been captured by police as drug gangs attempted to smuggle three tonnes of cocaine into Europe, much of which would have ended up on British streets.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) worked with Spanish police and customs to intercept the 65-foot long semi-submersible submarine which was loaded with cocaine worth hundreds of millions of pounds on the UK market.
The submarines have been used by South American drugs cartels to smuggle cocaine into the US but this is the first of its kind to be detected in European waters.
It was caught before it could offload its 152 bales of cocaine to another vessel on Saturday and escorted into the port of Aldán on the north west coast of Spain. Two Ecuadorian nationals have been arrested and a search for the third crew member is ongoing.
Tom Dowdall, Deputy Director International at the National Crime Agency, said: “This huge seizure of cocaine worth hundreds of millions of pounds is a result of intelligence sharing between the NCA, the Spanish authorities and the multi-agency Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre in Lisbon.
“It is highly likely a lot of this cocaine would have ended up on the streets of the UK, fuelling serious violence and impacting on the most vulnerable members of society.
“Our officers were able to coordinate the tracking and surveillance of this drug smuggling submarine through Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC (N)) in Lisbon, utilising law enforcement and military naval and aerial assets.
“Seizures like this are vital in disrupting and dismantling transnational crime groups trafficking deadly drugs, and ultimately protecting the public from the damage they cause.”
Europol says Spain and the Netherlands remain the main trafficking hubs for drugs including cocaine, a market worth almost £8 billion in the EU.
Britain is a key market for cocaine with six per cent of people aged 16 to 59 saying they have tried it, up from 2.4 per cent in 2013/14, according to Home Office figures.
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