Major haul of drugs found on boat in North Sea

The ocean-going tug MV Hamal was intercepted by the frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant. Picture: NCA/PA
The ocean-going tug MV Hamal was intercepted by the frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant. Picture: NCA/PA

A “potentially significant haul of illegal drugs” was found in a vessel intercepted off the north-east coast of Scotland by a navy warship last week.

The Tanzanian-registered Hamal was stopped 100 miles east of Aberdeen by the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Somerset and the Border Force vessel Valiant.

The nine men aboard the tug, aged between 26 and 63, appeared at Aberdeen Sheriff Court on Monday.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said its Scotland-based off­icers had made a “potentially significant seizure of illegal drugs”.

However, these were not discovered until after the 32-metre long ocean-going vessel arrived in Aberdeen Harbour following its interception 100 miles offshore last Thursday.

A spokesman for the NCA said at the time that the exact amount of cocaine on board had yet to be determined.

He was unable to give the nationality of the crew members, but said they are not British.

According to the vesselfinder.com website, the 422-ton Hamal left Tenerife two weeks ago and had been due to arrive in Hamburg on Friday night. The website said the vessel was previously at Tuzla in Turkey in February.

The Hamal was seized in the North Sea in a joint operation with Border Force and the Royal Navy following intelligence rec­eived by the agency.

HMS Somerset and the cutter Valiant intercepted the 36-year-old tug. The agency said the vessel was boarded and accompanied into Aberdeen, where a search was carried out by specialist Border Force officers with operational support from Police Scotland.

The spokesman said: “The crew of the Hamal were detained for questioning by investigators from the NCA’s Border Policing Command, and later charged with drug trafficking offences.

John McGowan, of the Border Policing Command, which is based at the Scottish Crime Campus at Gartcosh in North Lanarkshire, said: “This is a potentially significant seizure of illegal drugs, only made possible by the co-operation between ourselves, Border Force, the Royal Navy and our international partners.

“The exact amount of coc­aine on board is yet to be determined and the search is likely to continue for some time.

“The ongoing NCA investigation is being supported by Police Scotland.”

The operation comes a week after the agency helped French and Spanish authorities seize more than two tonnes of coc­aine from a Europe-bound yacht off Martinique, in the Caribbean.

The NCA Boarding Policing Command’s 600 officers include those based at ports and airports, and 120 international liaison officers, who cover 150 countries.

Border Force, which is part of the Home Office, has five Portsmouth-based cutters which patrol the coasts to intercept drugs, other illegal goods and people traffickers.

Its officers board some 2000 vessels a year in UK waters.

Last year, they also found 1260 kilos of cocaine aboard ships arriving at UK ports worth more than £250 million.