By Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira
ALMADA, Portugal, October 18 (Reuters) – Portuguese and Spanish authorities seized 5.2 tonnes of cocaine from a sailing vessel on the high seas and arrested three suspects, in Portugal’s largest drug seizure in 15 years and a world record from a sailboat, police said on Monday.
With the cocaine balls piled up behind him at a naval base across the Tagus River from Lisbon, Luis Neves, director of the Portuguese Judicial Police, said the transport represented the largest amount of cocaine ever seized from a sailboat in the world.
Usually these large quantities are found on freighters and larger motorized vessels.
Authorities discovered 183 fabric bags filled with cocaine, destined for the continental European market, inside the sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean, about 550 kilometers from the Portuguese coast.
“We are still waiting (more drug trafficking) and this is the message we want to send to the organizations: we are waiting for you,” Neves said. “Those who have to fall will fall because this amount of drugs is a huge fortune and a blow to criminal groups.”
The crew – two Spanish nationals and one Peruvian – have been arrested and will appear before a judge. Police suspect they are part of a powerful drug network known to transport drugs from Latin America to Europe.
Antonio Duarte, head of the Spanish police narcotics unit, said the men were already on authorities’ radar and an arrest warrant had been issued for one of them.
The seizure comes as new gangs continue to enter cocaine markets in Europe, setting up smuggling networks directly linking Latin American producers to European consumers, according to the Lisbon-based European drug agency, l ‘European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
Cocaine is the second most consumed illicit drug in Europe, the agency said in its 2021 report.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Pedro Nunes; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Bernadette Baum)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021.