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Irish officers play critical role in Spanish capture of €400m worth of drugs

The drugs were found onboard the Natalia off the coast of Fuerteventura, Spain.

An armed Spanish Customs team about to board the Natalia.
An armed Spanish Customs team about to board the Natalia.
Image: Policia Nacional Interior

IRISH LAW ENFORCEMENT intelligence officers have played a major role in the seizure of €400m worth of drugs off the coast of Spain.

Sources have said that Irish officers, working with the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre Narcotics in the Portuguese city of Lisbon played an instrumental role in the giant seizure. 

MAOC-N is a European group tasked with monitoring and assisting in the capture of organised crime smuggling into the continent – Ireland has a team of agents based at the facility. 

In spectacular footage, released by Spanish police, special forces officers board the Natalia cargo ship south of Fuerteventura, on the Canary Islands on Sunday.

They found the 20 tonnes of hashish inside the cargo hold of the vessel after a search. 

The Journal has learned that the intelligence which led to the capture of the vessel came from “Irish law enforcement intelligence officers”. 

A source said that the Irish agents were involved in generating the information that led to the seizure. 

The vessel was taken to Los Palmas in Gran Canaria where it was searched by Spanish agents who found bundles of the drugs inside the hold of the ship.

Sources have said that the focus of the investigation is centred around an “international organised crime group”. As reported previously by The Journal Irish criminals are now at the top of the pyramid in international smuggling

It is believed that the smuggling operation had connections to Middle East and North Africa. 

Spanish authorities said that the ship was at risk of sinking when the Spanish police decided to carry out its boarding. 

Irish, Spanish and French law enforcement elements, including anti terror officers, were involved in the operation which began investigations in January. 

The intelligence officers determined that the smugglers involved had a previous involvement in alleged international smuggling with a 13 tonne seizure of drugs in North Africa.

Image from iOS The drugs on the Spanish quayside following the search. Source: Policia National Interior

The international operation stretched from the Eastern reaches of the Mediterranean to the coast of Western North Africa. 

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The ship sailed from Turkey and was destined for Morocco – constantly monitored on its way by various naval services linked to MAOC.

As it neared the Canary Islands on Saturday night Spanish officers decided to intercept and board the vessel. 

The vessel was carrying a cargo of building materials and the drugs were concealed inside the holds. In total 638 bales of hash as found on board – there was also 26 kilos of cannabis found in the crew’s quarters. 

The 11 crew members were detained for questioning – it is understood they are Syrian nationals.

Previous 2016 reports by organised crime investigators in Spain, France and Italy had determined that a new route had been opened between Morocco and Turkey.

It is believed the international smuggling gang had connections with other smugglers in countries along the route including Malta, Syria, Egypt and Libya. 

Sources have suggested that there are suspicions that some of these importation activities are associated with funding Islamic terror groups.

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