Italian authorities seized a record cocaine haul of 5.3 tonnes being transferred between ships off the southern coast of Sicily, police said. Five suspects are in custody.
In an operation coordinated across several authorities, a consignment of 5.3 tonnes of cocaine, with an estimated value of €850million was seized off the coast of Sicily, the Guardia di Finanza said in a statement.
Police were tracking a ship which sailed from South America when a surveillance plane spotted packages being thrown into the water. A fishing trawler in the Strait of Sicily was waiting to collect the packages.
The authorities then swooped, discovering what is a record cocain haul seizure in Italian territories. The 5 subjects arrested were an Italian, 2 Tunisians, a Frenchman and an Albanian – and the seizure of 1 boat and over 5.3 tons of narcotic substance.
Sicilian regional president Renato Schifani praised the operation. “Drugs are a scourge of our society fuelled by unscrupulous men who sow death by crushing hopes and destroying many families,” he said in a statement.
How the scenario unfolded
Last Tuesday evening, an ATR 72 of the Aeronaval Operational Command, monitored a merchant ship (“mother ship”) flying the flag of Palau. It also detected the approach to the same by a trawler departing from the Calabrian coast.
The “mother ship” was stationed at the limits of the territorial waters where it was waiting for the fishing vessel.
In the early hours of Wednesday 19 July, numerous parcels were detected on the deck of the “mother” ship. These were subsequently unloaded into the sea with the sudden approach of the Italian fishing boat.
The fishing vessel which was returning to the territorial waters, was stopped. On board, skilfully concealed behind a panelling was a large room in which the authorities found a huge quantity of drugs.
Immediately afterwards, the naval units of the Corps purseued the merchant ship which in the meantime was trying to get back to sea in the direction of Turkey.
The fishing boat was taken to the port of Porto Empedocle while the “mother ship”, with crew made up of 15 subjects of Ukrainian, Turkish and Azeri nationality, was escorted by naval vessels of the Corps to the port of Palermo.