Spanish police intercept cargo ship with 20 tonnes of hashish
Spanish authorities have announced the seizure of 20 tonnes of hashish valued at $ 470 million and the detention of eleven crew members of an old dilapidated freighter they believed to be part of a major international trafficking operation drug. National police released dramatic video of the interception of the vessel about 40 miles southeast of the Canary Islands.
During a joint operation between the national police and the tax administration, in collaboration with the French and Irish authorities, the ship had been suspected months ago. Authorities had linked the vessel to a company in Lebanon, which provides various logistics services related to maritime transport. According to authorities, they identified the company in January 2021 and suspected that elements of the company were linked to a seizure of 13.6 tons of drugs in Libya in 2016.
Investigators working on the case, supported by CITCO (Intelligence Center against Terrorism and Organized Crime) and the Maritime Coordination Center, observed how in July 2021, one of the vessels belonging to the Lebanese company left the Turkey and subsequently made a series of significant changes to the ship’s registry, which aroused their suspicion. They observed changes in the name of the vessel as well as a change of registration from Togo to Palau.
The 38-year-old general cargo ship, 4,800 dwt, operated under the name Nathalie. The ship was followed as it crossed the Mediterranean. Investigators suspected he was heading for Morocco.
When the vessel reached the area near the Canary Islands, the Spanish authorities decided to intercept the vessel. Two patrollers from the Customs Surveillance Service were dispatched on August 7 and located the Natalia the next day. The chase and the interception were captured in the video released by authorities.
National Police reported that when their crews boarded the ship it was found to be in poor condition with engine problems and leaks, creating a risk of sinking. Authorities have said this is typical of ships used by smugglers who are often abandoned or sold for scrap after the smuggling operation ends.
The Natalia was taken to the port of Las Palmas. A thorough search of the ship on August 9 revealed hashish in 638 bullets hidden in a cargo of plaster in the ship’s holds. Separately, in the crew accommodation areas, they also found 26 kilograms of marijuana, which authorities believe the crew members were separately smuggling to sell for their own profit. The 11 crew members, all presumed to be Syrians, have been arrested and will be brought before the High National Court.
This is the second major drug seizure that Spanish authorities have recently made off the Canary Islands. In May, they seized a tug carrying seven tons of hashish. There was no indication whether the two cases were related.
Hashish recovered from Natalia (Policía Nacional)