ROME/JOHANNESBURG. – Italian police said yesterday they found 20 tonnes of hashish (cannabis) worth as much as 200 million euros ($232 million) in the fuel tanks of a Panama-flagged ship that was stopped in international waters and escorted to Sicily.
The entire 11-person crew, all from Montenegro, was arrested for international drug trafficking, Italy’s finance police said in a statement.
The research and survey vessel Remus left the Canary Islands bound for Egypt and Turkey, but police surveillance showed it had turned off its position transmitter near the coast of North Africa, raising investigators’ suspicions.
With the permission of Panamanian authorities, Italian finance police seized the vessel in international waters on July 31 and escorted it to Palermo. There, the fuel tanks were drained and the hash was discovered wrapped in sealed brown bags.
“The Mediterranean Sea again is confirmed to be one of the world’s largest arteries for illegal trafficking,” the police statement said. “The results of the operation are the fruit of attentive intelligence gathering and analysis of the ship’s routes.”
The North African hashish – compressed cannabis resin – was probably destined for the European market, police said. Morocco is the world’s largest producer of hashish, which is usually smuggled into Europe through Spain, according the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In a related matter, joint operations between South Africa’s Hawks, police led to the seizure of R8 million in drugs, and the arrest of 2 officers
Police caught a man in possession of drugs with an estimated street value of R5m on a bus in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape on Wednesday.
Police spokesperson Captain Siphokazi Mawisa said yesterday that the 39-year-old man was arrested after police followed up on information that he would be travelling with the drugs on a bus to Johannesburg.
Mawisa said the bus was stopped and searched on the R346 road in King Williams Town.
“The man tried to get rid of a black plastic (bag) that was in front of him.
“Police members got suspicious and searched him and recovered 1 573 mandrax tablets, cocaine weighing 8.92kg and tik (methamphetamine) weighing 7.35kg, to the street value of more than R5m,” Mawisa said.
The man, who is charged with possession of drugs, is expected to appear in the King Williams Town Magistrate’s Court today. – Reuters/News24/HR