Spanish authorities intercepted a merchant oil tanker carrying 3,000 kilos of cocaine in the Bay of Biscay and, in an unusual twist, claim that the vessel’s crew members sank their own ship in an attempt to avoid arrest.
The interdiction was the result of a months-long investigation into a Pontevedra-based smuggling organization. The scheme involved transporting cocaine to a point near the Galician coast, where it was transferred to smaller vessels.
According to the Guardia Civil, the small tanker Nehir fitted the suspected operational profile and, when the opportunity for an interception presented itself, agents boarded the vessel in a pre-dawn raid off Ribadeo.
The tanker was intercepted by the Spanish Navy vessel Serviola, and a National Police boarding team was deployed to search the vessel.
However, the interdiction quickly turned into a rescue mission, as the Nehir was quickly taking on water.
The boarding team saved the tanker’s nine crew members for arrest, and also seized 3,000 kilos of cocaine, estimated to be worth $180 million on the European black market, far more than the value of the vessel.
According to the Guardia Civil, the alleged smugglers had opened “some device that caused the rapid flooding of all the ship’s compartments with the intention of leaving no trace of their illicit cargo, [and] in little more than two hours, the ship sank completely.”
The nine crew members – all Georgian and Turkish nationals – will be handed over to the judicial authorities for prosecution. As for the wreck, a spill response vessel has been dispatched to the site of the sinking to deal with any pollution that may surface.