Sailors from HMS Lancaster have dealt a further blow to the drugs trade after seizing cannabis and cocaine with a combined street value of £58 million while on operations in the Caribbean, according to a release from the Royal Navy.
The two incidents came just days after each other, with Lancaster recovering cocaine weighing over 400kg and almost 1.2 tonnes of marijuana during the high-tempo operations. At a wholesale or pure price, the cocaine would be worth just over £17 million and the cannabis around £1.1 million, but at street level where it could be expected to be cut several times over, the values increase significantly to nearer £58 million.
According to the release, Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Francois said, “I visited HMS Lancaster earlier this year as the ship’s company prepared for their deployment so I’m pleased to hear of the ship’s fourth major drugs bust in as many weeks.”
The minister was further quoted as saying, “We should be extremely proud of HMS Lancaster’s actions in the Caribbean and efforts to disrupt the supply of illegal, life-destroying drugs. This is another fantastic success for the ship’s company, their constant hard work and professionalism is a great international advert for the Royal Navy and our country,” the minister said.
The call to intercept suspected traffickers came from a Canadian tanker which had spotted a speedboat in the Western Caribbean.
Lancaster quickly launched her Lynx helicopter-of 815 Naval Air Squadron, based in Yeovilton to pursue the fast moving vessel causing the suspected drug runners to dump their contraband over the side.
The release said that a royal sniper in the helicopter disabled the speedboat by shooting a hole in the engine, enabling the US Coastguard team on the Canadian tanker Preserver to apprehend those on-board as Lancaster collected the suspected drugs from the sea before they sank.
Lancaster with her US coastguard team embarked and successfully hauled 17 large packages of contraband out of the water which were tested to be pure cocaine. The drugs would have a street value in the UK of around £55 million.
Commander Steve Moorhouse, HMS Lancas-ter’s Commanding Officer was quoted as saying, “This is another fantastic result for Lancaster, and the multi-national counter-narcotics effort as a whole. The level of cooperation that exists between units and nations working with the Joint Interagency task Force is second to none and hopefully this bust will make those who choose to smuggle narcotics in the region think twice.”
Just days earlier, the Portsmouth-based warship had recovered marijuana weighing almost 1.2 tonnes in treacherous conditions after it was ditched by a speedboat.
In the middle of a violent thunderstorm, the crew had to work fast to recover the 45 packets of contraband before they sank or floated away.
The release added that during a patrol, Lancas-ter’s helicopter spotted a suspect vessel and started monitoring her movement. As soon as the speedboat saw the chopper, it started to ditch the drugs and increased speed. An all-night game of cat-and-mouse then ensued, using all the available intelligence assets.
As soon as the speedboat entered Costa Rican waters, it was arrested by the authorities who were awaiting its arrival.
The cocaine seizure is HMS Lancaster’s sixth bust of her deployment. During September, £3.5 million of marijuana was intercepted, £100 million of cocaine was seized in August as well as £700,000 of cannabis and the ship also significantly disrupted marijuana and heroin trafficking, the release said.
Lancaster operated with a team from the US Coast Guard who conduct interdiction and apprehension operations of illegal drug trafficking on the high seas. The ship is on her fourth counter-narcotics patrol of the Caribbean region this deployment and will continue to combat the drugs trafficking until the end of the year.
Her patrols are part of Operation Martillo, a combined effort by 15 nations to prevent criminal organizations from moving goods by air or sea in Central America, and stopping drugs trafficking from South America to the Caribbean and on to the UK.
The release added that in addition to her counter-narcotics patrols, Lancaster is on hand to support British overseas territories in the region, in particular humanitarian aid and disaster relief during the hurricane season.