News story

Royal Navy warship makes drugs bust

Sailors from HMS Lancaster have seized cannabis and cocaine with a street value of nearly £58 million while on operations in the Caribbean.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Recovered drug bales on board HMS Lancaster [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Jay Allen, Crown copyright]
Recovered drug bales on board HMS Lancaster

The seizure took place over 2 incidents which came just days after each other, with Lancaster recovering cocaine weighing over 400 kilograms and almost 1.2 tonnes of marijuana.

At a wholesale or ‘pure’ price, the cocaine would be worth just over £17 million and the cannabis around £1.1 million, but at street level, where it could be expected to be cut several times over, the values increase significantly to nearer £58 million.

Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois said:

I visited HMS Lancaster earlier this year as the ship’s company prepared for their deployment so I’m pleased to hear of the ship’s fourth major drugs bust in as many weeks.

We should be extremely proud of HMS Lancaster’s actions in the Caribbean and her efforts to disrupt the supply of illegal, life-destroying drugs.

This is another fantastic success for the ship’s company, their constant hard work and professionalism is a great international advert for the Royal Navy and our country.

Sea King helicopter hovers over suspect speedboat
Royal Canadian Navy ship HMCS Preserver's Sea King helicopter hovers over the suspect speedboat [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Jay Allen, Crown copyright]

The call to intercept suspected traffickers came from Canadian tanker HMCS Preserver which had spotted a speedboat in the western Caribbean.

HMS Lancaster quickly launched her Lynx helicopter – from 815 Naval Air Squadron based in Yeovilton – to pursue the fast-moving vessel, causing the suspected drug runners to dump their contraband over the side.

A Royal Marine sniper in the helicopter disabled the speedboat by shooting a hole in the engine, enabling the US Coast Guard team on the Canadian tanker to apprehend those on board as Lancaster collected the suspected drugs from the sea before they sank.

Lancaster, with her embarked US Coast Guard team, successfully hauled 17 large packages of contraband out of the water, which was found to be pure cocaine.

A member of HMS Lancaster's maritime sniper team
A member of HMS Lancaster's maritime sniper team watches over a previous operation from the ship's Lynx helicopter (library image) [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Jay Allen, Crown copyright]

HMS Lancaster’s Commanding Officer, Commander Steve Moorhouse, said:

This is another fantastic result for Lancaster – and the multinational counter-narcotics effort as a whole.

The level of co-operation that exists between units and nations working with the Joint Interagency Task Force is second-to-none and hopefully this bust will make those who choose to smuggle narcotics in the region think twice.

Just days earlier, the warship recovered marijuana weighing almost 1.2 tonnes in treacherous conditions after it was ditched by another speedboat.

In the middle of a violent thunder storm, the crew had to work fast to recover the 45 packets of contraband before they sank or floated away.

A seaboat from HMS Lancaster
A seaboat from HMS Lancaster taking part in a boarding operation in the Caribbean (library image) [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Jay Allen, Crown copyright]

During a patrol, Lancaster’s helicopter spotted a suspect vessel and started monitoring her movement. As soon those on the speedboat saw them, they started to ditch the drugs and increased speed.

An all night game of cat-and-mouse then ensued, using all available intelligence assets, until the speedboat entered Costa Rican waters where the suspected drug smugglers were arrested by the authorities awaiting their arrival.

The cocaine seizure is HMS Lancaster’s sixth drugs bust of her deployment. During September £3.5 million of marijuana was intercepted, £100 million of cocaine was seized in August as well as £700,000 of cannabis, and the ship has also significantly disrupted marijuana and heroin trafficking.

HMS Lancaster's Lynx helicopter
HMS Lancaster's Lynx helicopter transports drug bales to a US Coast Guard vessel (library image) [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Jay Allen, Crown copyright]

Lancaster operates with a team from the US Coast Guard who conduct interdiction and apprehension operations of illegal drug traffickers on the high seas.

The ship is on her fourth counter-narcotics patrol of the Caribbean region this deployment, and will continue to combat drug trafficking until the end of the year.

Her patrols are part of Operation Martillo, a combined effort by 15 nations to prevent criminal organisations from moving goods by air or sea in Central America, and stop drug trafficking from South America to the Caribbean and on to the UK.

In addition to her counter-narcotics patrols, Lancaster is on hand to support British overseas territories in the region, in particular to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief during the hurricane season.

Published 10 October 2013