Saturday 17 March 2018

€344m drugs haul found on boat in UK's largest class-A seizure

The €1.14m pleasure craft, Louise, at Southampton dock yesterday
The €1.14m pleasure craft, Louise, at Southampton dock yesterday

Wesley Johnson

A record £300m (€344m) haul of cocaine has been seized and six alleged members of an international drugs gang arrested, officials said yesterday.

A total of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine, with a purity level of 90pc, was found hidden inside a 65ft pleasure cruiser at Southampton docks in England in June.

It is the biggest haul of class A drugs ever found in the UK, officials from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) said.

French authorities were alerted to the £1m (€1.14m) craft, Louise, while it was in the Caribbean in May and it was then tracked to Southampton, on its way to Holland.

Officials spent six days searching the vessel and found the drugs packed in a specially-designed compartment beneath the boat's bathing platform.

It is understood the cocaine, which originated in South America, was packed inside the boat while it was in Venezuela.

The drug was 90pc pure, while the average purity of cocaine seized at the UK border is just 63pc, officials said.

The haul is estimated to be worth between £50m (€57.3m) wholesale and £300m on the streets.

Since the drugs were found in June, the UKBA has helped Dutch police track members of the gang and six men were arrested during early-morning raids yesterday -- two 44-year-olds in Amsterdam, a 60-year-old in Meppel, two, aged 32 and 34, in Heusden, and a 27-year-old in Waalwijk.

A total of €100,000, two Harley Davidson motorcycles, two firearms, a silencer and some ecstasy were also seized.

UK Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "This was a significant drugs seizure which was made possible by the co-operation of our international partners.

"UK Border Agency staff have shown vigilance, dedication and determination to uncover this shipment."

Dutch police were acting on intelligence provided by Soca's international network and the French Customs Investigation Service (DNRED).

Brodie Clark, head of the UKBA's border force, said: "This has been an enormous seizure of cocaine. This is the largest we have on record."

The international co-operation was a "strong and powerful example of more to come", he said.

Asked about how the drugs were hidden, he added: "It was ingenious, it was difficult to find.

"Skilful people spent a number of days looking for it."

SOCA's David Armond said the high purity of the cocaine means it would make about eight tonnes of saleable drugs once cut.

Irish Independent

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