French Navy Seizes 4.6 Tonnes of Cocaine from Brazilian Tugboat
A Brazilian tug boat transporting more than four tonnes of cocaine bound for European markets was intercepted off the coast of Sierra Leone by the French Navy on Nov. 30.
reported Wednesday that the seizure, which weighed in at over 4.6 tonnes, was worth as much as €150 million (US$157.8 million). The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), meanwhile, estimated that had the drugs been cut and sold in the UK, they could have netted organized crime groups over £300 million ($366.4 million) in profits.Europol
The 21 meter-long tugboat had been under surveillance ever since its departure from Brazil, the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC-N) said. Law enforcement agencies from Brazil, the U.S., the U.K., and France coordinated efforts to identify the vessel as part of a broader effort to dismantle criminal networks involved in drug trafficking between Brazil, Africa and Europe.
Authorities sprung into action in the early hours of Nov. 30 in international waters approximately 400 miles off Sierra Leone. Forces from the French amphibious assault helicopter carrier Tonnerre spearheaded the seizure.
Photos from the scene depict the massive Tonnerre looming over the tugboat, which had no chance of escape before inflatable Zodiac boats encircled it and sailors swarmed aboard.
They discovered 4.6 tonnes of cocaine wrapped in watertight bales. The crew, comprised of Brazilian nationals, were detained by authorities who then destroyed the valuable cargo, the NCA said.
“This was a huge haul of cocaine that was stopped in transit to Europe, and it is highly likely that a proportion of it would have ended up here in the UK, fuelling violence and further criminality,” said NCA International Deputy Director Tom Dowdall.
So far this year, MAOC-N reports that its partner countries have seized more than 15 tonnes of cocaine, particularly along the African coast from Cape Verde to the Gulf of Guinea.
While the investigation into the criminal groups involved remains ongoing, authorities believe the drugs themselves were bound for Europe, a popular market for Latin American cocaine traffickers.
With several high-traffic ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, Europe is an especially attractive vector for the transnational organized drug trade. And once inside the Schengen Area, freedom of movement gives traffickers a greater chance of crossing borders without fear of discovery.
As for Latin America, Brazil has become a well-known and popular launching point for crime groups, given its abundance of ports along the Atlantic coast and the fact that it conducts maritime shipping with more than 125 countries worldwide. It also shares borders with high-volume cocaine producers such as Colombia, Peru, and Paraguay.
Drug seizures in the country have skyrocketed over the past decade, with Brazilian Customs data showing that the 4.5 tonnes it seized in 2010 was dwarfed by the 66 tonnes seized in 2019, according to InSight Crime.