Navy assists in £60m drug seizure
The Royal Navy has helped seize a haul of cocaine, with an estimated value of £60m on Britain's streets, from a ship off the coast of West Africa.
Nearly two tonnes of the drug was found stashed below deck on the 100-feet long Panamanian-registered freighter. Acting on British intelligence, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll was diverted from exercises to take Spanish customs officials to stop Ster II.
The six West African crew members put up no resistance, the Royal Navy said. The Spanish customs team were flown out to join Argyll in Navy helicopters before boarding the target freighter in the Atlantic, 1,600 miles south of the Canary Islands.
Among its crew were five Senegalese and one person from Guinea Bissau. British officers had worked with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and law enforcement authorities from Spain, France and the US to trace the cocaine.
On Friday, the Argyll and the captured freighter were heading for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands where they are expected to arrive next weekend. 'International efforts' Commander Will Warrender, commanding officer of Devonport-based HMS Argyll, said: "I am thrilled that we have made such a successful contribution to this operation.
"It highlights the valuable role the Royal Navy plays in support of international efforts to suppress the illegal use of the high seas."
HMS Argyll was assisted by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship RFA Gold Rover, and Royal Marines, from 40 Commando. The operation was the latest in a series of interceptions of hauls headed from Latin America to the Spanish mainland. From there, drugs are shipped overland to the UK and the rest of western Europe.
So far this year such operations are estimated to have netted 26 tonnes of cocaine, with an estimated street value of more than £1bn.
The Navy ships had been travelling to Sierra Leone to take part in an amphibious exercise codenamed Operation Vela when the operation took place.