Customs seizes cocaine worth £30m in two operations at sea
More than 500 kilos of cocaine with a street value of £30m was seized from two vessels passing through Gibraltar by HM Customs officers in a “landmark achievement in the ongoing fight against international drug trafficking”.
The seizures “underscore the relentless law enforcement effort by Customs in intercepting consignments of illicit narcotics and mitigating its devastating effects on the international community,” the Gibraltar Government said in a statement.
The announcement of the seizures was delayed by three weeks for “security concerns that are no longer applicable”, a spokesperson for No.6 Convent Place told the Chronicle.
The first seizure took place in the early afternoon of Saturday September 23 when officers of HM Customs Gibraltar, in collaboration with a local diving company, executed a carefully planned operation that resulted in the recovery of eleven large packages, each containing Class A drugs, from a sea chest compartment on the starboard side of the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier "Unity N".
The retrieved packages were subsequently opened revealing a significant number of slabs containing cocaine with a total gross weight of 458 kilograms.
Two days later in a separate incident officers, acting on reliable information, deployed a marine drone to inspect the hull of the Portuguese-flagged bulk carrier Alice Oldendroff.
“During the course of the inspection, a 'parasitic device' was detected attached to its port side,” the Government said.
“In collaboration with a local diving company, a complex operation to remove the 'parasite' was initiated, resulting in the recovery of 41 slabs, each containing Class A drugs, with a total gross weight of 50 kilograms.”
The spokesman said all crew members on-board the two bulk carriers were interviewed, and based on the information obtained, there was no indication to suspect that the crew was involved in any illicit activities in either of the two cases.
Neither was there anything to suggest the drugs were destined for Gibraltar.
The Royal Gibraltar Police Crime Scene Investigation Unit was in attendance to oversee the processing and examination of the seized narcotics, assisting to secure any material of evidential value and ensuring a thorough investigation.
Both vessels have been released since, and the investigation into these separate incidents, with the assistance and cooperation of international law enforcement partners, is ongoing.
“HM Customs expresses its gratitude to the Gibraltar Port Authority (GPA) and the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) for their invaluable assistance during this operation,” Customs said in a statement.
“In total, 508 kilograms of cocaine was seized during these two operations, with an estimated street value of £30 million.”
“The value of the seized drugs is staggering, underscoring the significant impact these highly effective operations will have on the organised criminal groups that are behind these hauls, depriving them of the proceeds, disrupting the supply chain and safeguarding the International communities.”
The Collector of Customs, John Payas, commended his officers for their hard work and professionalism.
Both operations involved officers from numerous sections of HM Customs, proving high levels of coordination and teamwork, he said.
The caretaker Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: “I would like to thank all the officers involved in these two operations for their efforts in ensuring Gibraltar continues to clamp down and tackle any sort of illicit activity that may occur across the Strait.”