Royal Navy teams deployed in the Caribbean for hurricane disaster relief have netted 1,000 kilograms of cocaine, worth £81 million (CI$84.6 million), during three raids on the high seas, according to a Navy statement Thursday.
Sailors, Royal Marines and the US Coast Guard team on board the RFA Argus seized a haul of 11 bales of cocaine weighing 358 kg in the first of three busts in seven days.
New patrol ship HMS Medway and a US Coast Guard team followed that up by catching traffickers in two interceptions in 24 hours in the Caribbean Sea, netting 650 kg of cocaine.
The combined haul of the British and American teams is worth £81 million, according to figures calculated by the UK’s National Crime Agency.
“The Royal Navy and the US Coast Guard have prevented a significant quantity of drugs crossing the Caribbean, where possibly it was destined for the streets of the UK,” Commanding Officer of HMS Medway, Lieutenant Commander Jim Blythe said.
Crews aboard the two ships were recently in Cayman waters. The Argus flight crew assisted Cayman with helicopter cover whilst Royal Cayman Islands Police Service aircraft were being serviced. The team also carried out an exercise at Colliers Beach in June.
While the ships are in the region to offer humanitarian aid and disaster relief, they also work with the US Coast Guard to carry out maritime security and counter-narcotic patrols.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey commended the crews for their action.
“The Royal Navy task group deployed to support our overseas territories during the Covid-19 pandemic. They stayed in the Caribbean to respond to damage caused by hurricanes and now they’re making drugs busts alongside our friends in the US Coastguard. This is amazing work from our people after months away from home,” Heappey said in the Navy statement.
The locations of the raids have not been released.
In describing one of the interdictions, the Royal Navy said an American maritime patrol aircraft spotted a suspicious vessel riding low in the water and reported it to Argus, which immediately changed course to investigate.
“The 28,000-tonne vessel used squalls as cover to stay out of sight and avoid raising suspicion – while her boarding team of Royal Marines from 47 Commando and the US Coast Guard prepared to strike. On approaching the target craft, the Royal Marines were spotted and the suspect vessel’s crew started to throw their illegal cargo overboard,” the statement said.
The crew of the intercepted vessel were brought back to RFA Argus along with their seized cargo before being transferred to US Coast Guard cutter Spencer. The boat was subsequently sunk by soldiers from 24 Commando Royal Engineers.
A few days later, HMS Medway, acting on reports of a “suspicious go-fast” vessel, launched boats piloted by Royal Navy sailors with a US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment aboard which gave chase.
“Sixteen bales of cocaine and three detainees were captured in the first boarding, which saw Medway catch up with the suspect craft from 45 miles out. Just one day later more information was fed to Medway and she gave chase to another craft, landing a further nine bales and three more detainees,” the statement said.
The detainees and the seized drugs have been handed over to US authorities.