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Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 12:01 GMT
UK ships seize 350m drugs cache
HMS Southampton
The raid was carried out by HMS Southampton and RFA Grey Rover
UK ships have seized a huge drugs cache after a high-speed operation netted three-and-a-half tonnes of cocaine in the Caribbean.

The drugs had a street value of 350m ($620m), the Ministry of Defence said.

The raid, on a cargo ship off the coast of Miami, was carried out by the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary using HMS Southampton and RFA Grey Rover.

In October, the Royal Navy seized a then record two tonnes of cocaine worth 200m off the coast of Nicaragua.

Defence Secretary John Reid praised the work of the crews who carried out Wednesday's raid.

"This is another great success for the Royal Navy in countering the trafficking of illegal drugs, which destroy the lives of families in the United Kingdom and around the world," he said.

"The professional crews of HMS Southampton and RFA Grey Rover deserve huge credit for dealing another massive blow to the drug barons that would attack our society."

Pincer movement

After the cargo ship was spotted, HMS Southampton broke off from refuelling and led the charge at nearly 30 knots to corner the MV Rampage in a surprise pincer movement with the tanker, RFA Grey Rover.

A Lynx helicopter from HMS Southampton intercepted the alleged drug runners as the ships appeared over the horizon.

A spokesman said: "The vessel, MV Rampage, which had apparently earlier had a different name, was taken completely by surprise, as boarding teams from both Southampton and Grey Rover swooped in by fast rigid inflatable boat at sunset.

"After a search of the vessel, a large number of cocaine bales were discovered, packed in a forward section."

HMS Southampton had been working closely with the United States Coastguard and Royal Netherlands Navy authorities.

The success of this seizure will send a clear message of determination to stop the smuggling of illegal drugs - and we are good at it.
Commander Rob Vitali

The cargo ship and her crew are currently being held by the US Coastguard Authority, based in Miami.

Commander Rob Vitali, HMS Southampton's Commanding Officer, said: "This was a particularly well co-ordinated operation.

"The success of this seizure will send a clear message of determination to stop the smuggling of illegal drugs - and we are good at it.

"Southampton has had a busy operational time, with the ship's recent involvement in two search-and-rescue incidents.

"However, it just shows that our presence here in the Caribbean has been extremely worthwhile. The success of this incident highlights the benefits of international and joint collaboration against drug smuggling."

The Royal Navy destroyer and RFA Grey Rover have been on a five-month tour which has taken in West Africa, the Falkland Islands, Brazil and the Caribbean.

Their primary mission in the Caribbean is the security of British Overseas Territories - including helping with disaster relief - but anti-drugs work forms "a major part" of their daily work, according to the Royal Navy.

Both ships are due to return to Britain at the end of this month when Grey Rover will be decommissioned.


SEE ALSO:
Navy ship rescues Caribbean crew
23 Jan 06 |  Hampshire


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