The crew of a Royal Navy warship has seized a massive 680-kilogram stash of cocaine with an estimated street value of £100 million.
HMS Lancaster made the bust after sailors boarded a speedboat near Puerto Rico. The boat, which was concealed by a tarpaulin, was spotted by a US Customs and Border Protection Agency aircraft in the Caribbean Sea.
The Portsmouth-based frigate sped to the area and launched her Lynx helicopter and high-speed pursuit boat to intercept the 30-foot vessel with 3 suspected smugglers on board. As Lancaster approached, the men attempted to dispose of the evidence by throwing the drugs overboard, but these were quickly recovered by Royal Navy personnel.
A total of 22 bales of pure cocaine were seized along with the 3 men on board who, ultimately, were fully compliant with the Royal Navy and US Coast Guard team. The suspected smugglers and cocaine were then handed over to the authorities in Puerto Rico.
The empty drugs boat was subsequently sunk by Royal Navy gunfire to prevent its use in future smuggling operations.
The Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, said:
This extraordinary quantity of drugs has been stopped from reaching the streets by the swift actions of the Royal Navy, working closely with the US Coast Guard. This is HMS Lancaster’s second counter-narcotics patrol in the Caribbean to tackle the drugs trade and the entire ship’s company should be proud of this remarkable achievement.
This is another example of the skills and capability that mean our Armed Forces are held in high regard by our partners around the world.
HMS Lancaster is on patrol with a US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment as part of a multinational effort to combat drug-smuggling in the Caribbean.
HMS Lancaster’s Commanding Officer, Commander Steve Moorhouse, said:
This is a great result not only for Lancaster but also for everyone involved in the multinational effort to stem the flow of drugs in the region. My ship’s company can be incredibly proud of what they have achieved, their professionalism and teamwork continue to shine, and our close relationship with our partner nations and law enforcement agencies is proving to be hugely successful.
This is the ship’s third success in as many weeks and follows on from the seizure of a shipment of marijuana with a street value of up to £700,000 and the stopping of another craft with a significant amount of cocaine and heroin on board.
Able Seaman James Duffy, the coxswain of one of Lancaster’s sea boats, said:
We have all trained really hard to get where we are and have a fantastic relationship with the US Coast Guard guys. It is an amazing feeling to get such a great bust and stop millions of pounds worth of cocaine hitting the streets.
The Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate is on her second counter-narcotics patrol of the Caribbean region and will continue to combat the illicit smuggling of drugs until the end of the year.
These patrols are part of Operation Martillo, a 15-nation collaborative effort to deny transnational criminal organisations air and maritime access to the littoral regions of Central America, and focus on putting a stop to the illegal movement of drugs from South America into the Caribbean and onwards to the UK.
Over the past year the US Coast Guard has seized 20,500 kilograms of cocaine and 8,500 pounds of marijuana during 22 law enforcement interceptions.
Counter-narcotic operations with the USA and other partner nations is one of a range of tasks HMS Lancaster is conducting across the Caribbean in support of British interests. Others include providing reassurance and security for British Overseas Territories and the provision of humanitarian aid and disaster relief during the core hurricane season.
The Royal Navy contributes to counter-narcotics operations across the globe whether it be cannabis and cocaine in the Caribbean or intercepting insurgent heroin traffic using its Sea King air surveillance helicopters in Afghanistan.