West helicopter crew busts £100m drugs haul
A Westcountry helicopter crew has played a central role in the seizure of £100 million worth of cocaine in the Caribbean.
HMS Lancaster made the bust after the boat – concealed by a tarpaulin – was spotted by a US Customs and Border Agency aircraft in the Caribbean Sea.
The frigate sped to the area and launched her Lynx helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton and high-speed pursuit boat to intercept the 30ft vessel with three suspected smugglers on board.
As Lancaster approached, the men attempted to dispose of the evidence by throwing the drugs overboard, but these were quickly recovered by divers. A total of 22 bales of pure cocaine – weighing in at 680kg – were seized along with the three men on board. The drugs were estimated to have a street value of £100 million.
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The men on board were said to "ultimately" have been "fully compliant" with the Royal Navy and US Coastguard team.
The suspected smugglers and cocaine were then handed over to the Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo and then the authorities in Puerto Rico.
According to standard practice, the empty drugs boat was subsequently sunk by Royal Navy gunfire to prevent its use in future smuggling operations.
HMS Lancaster's Commanding Officer, Commander Steve Moorhouse, said: "This is a great result not only for Lancaster but also everyone involved in the multi-national effort to stem the flow of drugs in the region.
"My ship's company can be incredibly proud of what they have achieved, their professionalism and teamwork continue to shine, and our close relationship with our partner nations and law enforcement agencies is proving to be hugely successful."
Portsmouth-based HMS Lancaster is on patrol with a team from the US Coast Guard.