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Saturday, 2 September, 2000, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Spain seizes huge drugs shipment
A police helicopter hovers near the Sao Tome registered Privilege ship docked in Las Palmas
The Privilege was registered in Sao Tome
Spanish police have been giving details of a massive drugs seizure made as a result of a raid on a cargo ship in the Atlantic.

They are still searching the vessel but expect to recover several tonnes of cocaine.

Explaining the operation, the Spanish Government's anti-drugs supremo Gonzalo Robles said: "We are talking of a major consignment, probably over five tonnes.

"We believe the search of the ship will be slow and prolonged, not just because of the size of the vessel and the amount of cargo it carries, but also because of the way the drug is hidden."

Cocaine
Much of the cocaine arriving in Spain comes from Colombia
All 20 of the ship's crew were arrested after police and customs officers, backed up by air force helicopters and the navy, boarded the Privilege which was flying a Sao Tome and Principe flag.

The swoop, codenamed Operation Oyster, intercepted the cargo ship 200 nautical miles south-west of the Canary Islands, en route from Venezuela to Italy.

The cocaine was intended for distribution from the Canaries to the rest of Europe, police said.

The seizure results directly from Operation Orinoco, which is trying to co-ordinate anti-drugs efforts by police in Venezuela, Colombia, United States, Italy, Panama, France, Greece and Spain.

Spain has become a pivot for drug traffickers in Europe, with cocaine, heroin and hashish passing through its territory from various points of origin.

Spain's criminal gangs have well-established links with illegal drug operations in South America and access to thousands of kilometres of coastline which are difficult to police.

Seizure

The Privilege has been taken to the port of Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, where it is being systematically searched.

The arrested crew was made up of 18 Philippine nationals, one Mexican and the boat's Panamanian captain.

Spain's biggest ever cocaine seizure was in July 1999, when police found 7.6 tonnes of cocaine on a ship approaching the Canary Islands from Panama. Officials estimated the haul at 10 tonnes.

A further 5.2 tonnes of cocaine were later found on mainland Spain as a result of that operation.

  • On Thursday, the authorities arrested a man at Madrid's Barajas airport for attempting to import nearly eight kilos of cocaine into Spain.

    The cocaine - hidden inside chess boards, paperweights and decorative plaques in his luggage - was detected by dogs at the airport.

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    See also:

    07 Jul 00 | Europe
    Portugal legalises drug use
    19 Feb 00 | Europe
    Spanish police arrest drugs gang
    07 Jul 99 | Europe
    Record cocaine seizure in Spain
    27 Jul 99 | Europe
    Spanish drug ring 'smashed'
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    Europe's drug gangs
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