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Huge blow Irish investigators play key role in 20 tonne hashish seizure off Spanish coast

Video from the Spanish National Police shows officers uncovering piles of suspected hashish bales in the hold

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Part of the massive seizure in Spain

Part of the massive seizure in Spain

Part of the massive seizure in Spain

Irish investigators working as part of the EU’s anti-drugs smuggling unit have played a key role in the seizure of almost 20 tonnes of hashish on board a vessel off the coast of Spain. 

The estimated €400 million worth of drugs was discovered on the cargo vessel Natalia after it was boarded by Spanish law enforcement and customs officials on Sunday.

The operation took place in international waters, about 75km south of Fuerteventura.

Heavily armed officers used a RHIB inflatable to storm the Togo-registered tanker, which was in a dangerously unseaworthy condition and arrested the 11 Syrian crew members who are now in custody.

Spanish cops, who had been following the boat for several days, decided to make their move on Sunday when they realised it was in danger of sinking.

Video from the Spanish National Police shows officers carrying out the boarding operation before uncovering piles of suspected hashish bales in the hold.

The raid was carried out by a special unit of the Spanish police, following an investigation by the Irish desk of MAOC-N, the anti-drugs agency commanded by former Garda Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan.

Mr O’Sullivan said: “It is a huge blow to a trans national organised crime group and proves the benefit of international law enforcement cooperation.”

The operation began in January of this year when Irish investigators noticed suspicious activity from a shipping company in the Middle East.

The investigators realised that one of their ships was re-registered from its original base in Togo to Palau in the Pacific Ocean and was renamed he Natalia.

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The ship’s journey from Turkey was closely monitored as it moved through the Mediterranean, before heading south towards the Canaries.

The ship was transferred to the port of Las Palmas and docked there on Sunday night where 638 bales of hashish were later found, totalling 19,876 kilos.

They also recovered another 20 kgs of cannabis in the crew’s quarters.

Authorities believe the drugs were destined for Morocco from where they would have been smuggled to Italy or Greece before being distributed across Europe.

The 11 suspects are due in court in the Canaries later this week.

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