MORE than £6.5 million of cocaine hidden on coal ships by Colombian drug cartels has been uncovered, smashing one of the largest smuggling routes into the region ever known.
UK Border Force officers yesterday announced they have closed down an important supply route through Immingham in North East Lincolnshire, after a series of major seizures of the Class A drug.
The high purity cocaine was found hidden in loads of coal on bulk vessels that had travelled from Puerto Prodeco, in Colombia, to the east coast port.
Seizures have been made on three different vessels in the last three months, with the most recent being eight kilos found on the MV Frontier Island last week.
Sam Bullimore, assistant director for UK Border Force north, said it is hoped the discovery of the smuggling route will have an impact on the efforts of the Colombian drug cartels - known as some of the most dangerous gangs in the world.
“I am delighted and this has been a real success,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“This amount of cocaine is a big chunk.
“This is very significant in terms of it being three separate seizures of the same method, smuggling the drug on coal ships.
“Immingham and Hull are the main priorities because of the size of the ports.
“But it is also an issue in Boston and Goole where there is not necessarily a constant enforcement presence.
“It is not just drugs that are being smuggled, but weapons, people trafficking and counterfeit cigarettes as well.
“This was a significant smuggling route and these seizures will put a major dent in the profits of the criminal gang behind this specific plot.”
About 45 kilos – nearly 100lbs – of the drug worth £5m, was discovered on a cargo ship called the CSK Glory by the UK Border Force on August 13.
The vessel had also travelled to the UK from Puerto Prodeco in Colombia, via Holland, before it docked in Immingham.
The drug was found to be 90 per cent pure.
In June, 20 kilos of cocaine with a street value of £1m was seized at Immingham on another ship from Colombia.
On each occasion the ships were raided by specially-trained officers from the Border Force Deep Rummage Team, who found the drugs.
No arrests have been made in connection with the seizures at this stage, but investigations are continuing.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated investigation, a Polish man was arrested at Immingham Docks last week following the seizure of 10 kilos of cocaine.
The drugs, with an estimated street value of £1m, were found on Tuesday during a search of a lorry that had arrived on a ferry from Rotterdam.
The 50-year-old Polish man, who was driving the lorry, was arrested and released on bail.
All of the drugs uncovered will be destroyed.
“Smuggling drugs is a vile trade that profits from the misery of others,” Mr Bullimore added.
“We will continue to work closely with partner law enforcement agencies, both in the UK and abroad, to clamp down on the criminals involved.
“Cocaine destroys lives.
“Colombia is one of the main source countries for cocaine and the drug gangs in the country are among the largest and most violent in the world.
“It is an ongoing problem simply because that is the country where it is produced, and while efforts are being made it is likely to go on for the foreseeable future.”
The UK Border Force has four National Deep Rummage Teams which are based at Liverpool, Immingham, Felixstowe and Southampton, but operate across the UK.
The central base is in Liverpool where the teams operate their training vessel, the Altea.
Officers are able to board vessels as they tie up, and can perform detailed searches.
A record seizure of £300m of cocaine was made at Southampton last year.