All over the world, law enforcement agencies are tasked with stopping drug smugglers from getting their packs across borders. In April of last year, UK law enforcement made what is being called the biggest cocaine seizure in UK history and the largest to ever occur in European waters. Turkish men Mumin Sahin and Emin Ozmen have been convicted of attempting to smuggle about £500 million (about $658.8 million) worth of cocaine into the UK on a boat.
The Border Force and the National Crime Agency (NCA) sprang into action in April last year following a tip off from French customs body DNRED that a ship was travelling around the UK with a significant amount of drugs.
The Hamal had turned off its Automated Identification System (AIS), meaning it could not be tracked and had to be spotted by “eyes in the sky” scouring the Atlantic and North Sea.
Once HMS Somerset and the Valiant stopped the tugboat, unarmed officers boarded and steered it to Scotland, detaining the crew – including the cook – when it reached UK waters. Once it was docked in Aberdeen a welded plate was found inside protecting a dry void within a ballast tank.
Due to the tight space, it took two Border Force officers two hours to cut through the steel with a household drill to discover the hidden cocaine.
An access hatch to load the bales of drugs was found behind a medicine cabinet bolted to the wall of the upstairs accommodation.
Border Force director Murdo MacMillan said: “The ship had been specifically adapted to conceal this void. It’s effectively a tank within a tank.
“This was very sophisticated. I don’t think there’s many people who would rebuild or adapt a vessel to the degree that this had been done.”
In total, 128 bales of cocaine weighing 3.2 tonnes, worth an estimated £500 million, was found in the hatch.
“To put it in perspective, it’s five times bigger than the largest Scottish seizure on land, and the total seizure of cocaine by all police forces in England and Wales, including Border Force and the NCA, in the year 2014/15 was 3.4 tonnes – this is just below that total,” said John McGowan, of NCA Border Policing Command in Scotland. “The concealment was sufficiently secure that if that vessel faced a random customs stop and boarded at sea, the chances of those drugs being found were next to nil.”
Sentences for the two men are still pending.