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A freighter with 4,500 kilos of cocaine from Colombia intercepted west of the Canary Islands

Joint operation by the Tax Agency and the National Police

  • The Togo-flagged 'Orion V', a cargo ship bound for the Middle East, was intercepted 62 miles southwest of the archipelago by the Customs Surveillance vessel 'Fulmar'.

  • All 28 crew members of the cargo ship, of nine different nationalities, arrested

  • International organisations are reinventing themselves when it comes to transporting drugs from Latin America to Europe, using live cattle to make it more difficult to control and trace them.

28 January 2023.- The Tax Agency, as part of a joint operation with the National Police, has seized the cargo ship 'Orion V' 62 miles southwest of the Canary Islands when it was carrying 4,500 kilos of cocaine.Following the interception of the vessel by the Special Operations Vessel 'Fulmar' of the Tax Agency's Customs Surveillance Service, 28 crew members of nine different nationalities were arrested.The cargo ship, with the same Togo flag and similar dimensions as the 'Blume', which was also boarded in the middle of this month in waters close to the Canary Islands, was transporting livestock from Colombia to the Middle East.

The operation involved the American DEA, the Atlantic Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC-N) and the Centre for Intelligence against Terrorism and Organised Crime (CITCO), as well as Togolese authorities.

The operation began as a result of investigations carried out jointly by the National Police and the Customs Surveillance Service, which determined the possible involvement of a vessel suspected of illicit drug trafficking from South America.

Since 2020, the National Police and the Customs Surveillance Service have been monitoring the vessel 'Orion V' (ex 'Spiridon'), suspected of being used to transport large quantities of drugs.The drugs were either loaded in port or transferred to them on the high seas.

This vessel has already been analysed within the framework of an investigation carried out by the Central Narcotics Brigade and the Tax Agency's Customs Surveillance Service, in which the 'Santorum' brothers, among others, were arrested, who were in charge of receiving and smuggling large quantities of cocaine.Despite having been checked and searched on that occasion, no drugs could be found inside, although there was sufficient evidence to confirm that it was a vessel carrying drugs under the guise of transporting livestock - to countries such as Libya, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Curaçao, Egypt, Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Macao, Kuwait and Qatar - offering treated and manipulated livestock products in conditions suitable for international trade.

Finally, the Customs Surveillance Directorate set up an air-shipping operation that allowed the vessel 'Fulmar' to locate and board the cargo ship on the afternoon of 24 January.

After inspecting the common areas of the merchant vessel, the presence of an unspecified number of bales of the type normally used for cocaine trafficking was detected in a feed silo.For this reason, the 28 crew members of the vessel were arrested:ten Tanzanian nationals, five Syrians, four Kenyans, two Ecuadorians, two Panamanians, two Colombians, one Dominican, one Nepalese and one Nicaraguan, as well as the seizure of the vessel for transfer to the port of Las Palmas.The operation has been directed and coordinated by the Anti-Drugs Prosecutor's Office of the Audiencia Nacional.

The detainees, as well as the boat, the drugs and the police proceedings will be handed over to the Central Examining Magistrate's Court of the Audiencia Nacional.

Nine tonnes of cocaine in the space of a week

This operation is one more in the fight against drug trafficking on the so-called 'Atlantic cocaine route', which is used by merchant ships and fishing boats from South America to tranship narcotic substances in the middle of the Atlantic for subsequent introduction to the European continent.

In this case, the interception of the 'Orion V' took place just six days after the interception of the 'Blume' on 18 January, which had very similar characteristics - both with a length of around 100 metres - and 4,500 kilos of cocaine on board, making a combined total of nine tonnes of drugs seized in this short period of time.

Film of the operation (go to the following website to download the video):