The biggest drugs bust in British history took place in the North Sea when officers intercepted a ship carrying cocaine with a street value of more than half a billion pounds, it emerged today.
A huge haul weighing about three tonnes was seized when the Tanzanian-registered tugboat Hamal was stopped by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant about 100 miles east of Aberdeen last Thursday.
Border Force officers have been carrying out a thorough search of the vessel since then and now the National Crime Agency has said the cocaine on board was worth more than £500miliion – making it the biggest haul ever.
The nine-man crew of the Hamal, all Turkish nationals aged between 26 and 63, have been charged with drug trafficking offences.
They appeared before Aberdeen Sheriff Court on Monday, April 27 where they were remanded in custody until their next appearance on Tuesday, May 5.
The NCA was acting on intelligence supplied from France’s Direction Nationale du Renseignement et des Enquêtes Douanière (DNRED), the Maritime Information Centre and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre in Lisbon.
It is believed the boat was heading for Hamburg.
The operation was conducted following close cooperation with the DNRED and in coordination with the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) plus the Maritime Analysis and Operational Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) based in Lisbon.
The vessel was taken to Aberdeen harbour where a search began led by Border Force officers, with operational support from Police Scotland.
The cocaine had an estimated total weight in excess of three tonnes which, if cut and sold in the UK, could have had a likely potential street value of more than £500million.
John McGowan, senior investigating officer for the NCA, based at the Scottish Crime Campus, Gartcosh, said the search of the vessel had been “painstaking”.
He said: “The search of this vessel has been lengthy and painstaking, undertaken by hugely skilled specialists working in difficult conditions.
“The result is this massive discovery – believed to be the biggest single class A drug seizure on record in the UK, and likely to be worth several hundred million pounds.
“Our investigation continues, but the operation was only possible thanks to the close co-operation between the NCA, Border Force, the Royal Navy, plus the French DNRED and our other international partners. The extensive operation in Aberdeen was given substantial support from Police Scotland.”