Three tonnes of cocaine worth hundreds of millions of pounds on the UK market have been recovered from a submarine intercepted off the coast of Spain.
Following an intelligence-led operation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA) and international partners, the Spanish authorities interdicted the semi-submersible submarine – the first of its kind detected in Europe – on Saturday before it could offload the drugs to another vessel.
A narco-submarine (also called a ‘drug sub’ and ‘Bigfoot’ submarine) is a type of custom-made ocean-going self-propelled submersible vessel built by drug traffickers to smuggle drugs.
They are primarily known to be used by Colombian drug cartel members to export cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, which is often then transported overland to the United States.
Newer narco-submarines are nearly fully submersible and are explicitly designed to be difficult to detect visually or by radar, sonar and infrared systems.
Cargoes carried are typically several tons of cocaine.
American authorities are thought to detect around ten ‘narco-subs’ per month, with each one containing around $100m of drugs.
Each narco-sub costs around £1.8m to build. Narco-subs found in the Americas are often made in the mango-fringed coves of Columbia.
The 20m-long (65ft) submarine, which was escorted into the port of Aldán and searched by police, was carrying 152 bales containing three tonnes of cocaine.
Two Ecuadorian nationals have been arrested, and a search for the third crew member is ongoing.
Officers from the NCA’s international network, who shared intelligence and coordinated the deployment of law enforcement and military assets, worked closely with international partners including the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC (N)) in Lisbon, the Spanish Guardia Civil, Spanish National Police and Spanish Customs.
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 MAOC(N), 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.”
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