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DEA, National Crime Agency and Portuguese police catch gang smuggling 5.2tonnes of cocaine

The largest drug bust in Portugal in 15 years today saw Portuguese and Spanish authorities seize 5.2 tonnes of cocaine worth £170million from a sailing yacht on the high seas and arrest three suspects, in a world-record haul. 

It was found to have a European street value of around 200 million euros and was nabbed by an international police operation.

Police intercepted the 24-metre yacht in the Atlantic Ocean, according to a statement and arrested three crew members- two Spanish nationals and one Peruvian- who will appear before a judge. 

The drugs bust happened as part of Portugal's Operation 'White Tide' to tackle smuggling at sea. 

Cocaine was found in 183 cloth sacks, (pictured) destined for the continental European market, inside the sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean, around 550 kilometres from Portugal's coast

Cocaine was found in 183 cloth sacks, destined for the continental European market around 550 kilometres from Portugal's coast. 

It is suspected that the men are part of a drug ring known for transporting drugs from Latin America to Europe. 

At a press conference in Almada, Luis Neves, director of Portugal's criminal investigation police, said the haul was a representation of the largest amount of cocaine ever seized from a sailboat globally.

This map shows the  route of the gang, who are suspected to be part of a ring known for smuggling drugs from Latin America to Europe 

At a press conference in Almada, Luis Neves, (pictured) director of Portugal's criminal investigation police, said the haul was a representation of the largest amount of cocaine ever seized from a sailboat globally

 Mr Neves said: 'We are always expecting (more drug trafficking) and this is the message we want to send organisations: we are waiting for you,

'Those who have to fall will fall because this amount of drugs is an immense fortune and a huge blow for criminal groups.'

 He spoke while the cocaine bales were piled up behind him at a naval base across the River Tagus from Lisbon.

Mr Neves (pictured centre) spoke while the cocaine bales were piled up behind him at a naval base across the River Tagus from Lisbon

 Today's operation involved police from Portugal, Spain, the Drug Enforcement Agency in the United States and the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency.

Authorities said they would release further details of the operation later today.

 Antonio Duarte, head of Spain's police narcotics unit, said the men were already on the authorities watch list and an arrest warrant had been issued for one of them. 

Antonio Duarte,(pictured) head of Spain's police narcotics unit, said the men were already on the authorities watch list and an arrest warrant had been issued for one of them

Today's operation involved police from Portugal, Spain, the Drug Enforcement Agency in the United States and the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency

 Large quantities of drugs are usually found on cargo ships and bigger motorised vessels.  

The drug seizure comes as new gangs continue to muscle into drugs markets in Europe, setting up cocaine smuggling networks directly linking producers in Latin America to European consumers, according to the Lisbon-based EU drugs agency, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).  

A report in 2021 by the agency said cocaine is the second most commonly used illegal drug in Europe.  

 In Belgium, a gang suspected of smuggling 15 tonnes of cocaine into the country were intercepted by prosecutors. 

A total number of 27 suspects were arrested in police raids around the country and drugs, weapons and luxury items were seized and police arrested another person in Spain. 

In Antwerp in April, Belgian authorities found another record cocaine haul, with huge stashes stacked up in a pile

 And on Friday Spanish authorities announced they had swooped on a sailing ship which was carrying 2.5 tonnes of cocaine.

They intercepted the ship off Portugal's Azores archipelago, arresting two people on board and three more in the Malaga region of Southern Spain. 

 The new Operation 'White Tide' comes after years of European authorities finding increasingly large hauls of cocaine and looking to crack down.

In Hamburg, Germany in 2019, a 4.5 tonne shipment of cocaine was found stashed away- the largest at the time.  

In Hamburg, Germany in 2019, a 4.5 tonne shipment of cocaine was found stashed away- the country's largest ever at the time

The UK has also been cracking down on drug smuggling after the past few years, after increasingly large hauls have been found. 

And yesterday, it was reported that one such British drug smuggler, Susan Clarke, 72, had died alone in jail of breast cancer.

Ms Clarke and her partner Roger were jailed in 2019 for smuggling £1m of cocaine on a cruise ship from the Caribbean to Lisbon. 

Susan Clarke and her partner Roger were jailed in 2019 for smuggling £1m of cocaine on a cruise ship from the Caribbean to Lisbon

 The pair were jailed separately and were sentenced to eight years behind bars for attempting to smuggle their four suitcases of cocaine.

 They had previously smuggled drugs into the UK on four cruises over four years.