UK’s biggest cocaine seizure points to the rise of new drug trafficking networks

British news channels have reported the seizure of three tonnes of cocaine from a vessel that was intercepted on the 23 April, 100 miles east off Aberdeen. The case marks the biggest drug seizure in British history, the product of an intensive operation by Police Scotland, the UK National Crime Agency, the UK Border Force, the Royal Navy, the Maritime Analysis and Operational Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N), the French DNRED and other international partners.

While waiting for more details to emerge, a number of pieces of information are significant for the Cocaine Route Programme and other initiatives concerned with the fight against transnational organised crime. The different skills required from surveillance to interception to detection of the drugs demonstrated the need for inter-agency collaboration in such complex operations. Identifying the vessel and tracking it across a vast expanse of international waters speaks of the need for closer international cooperation. The concealment of the drugs inside the internal structure of the vessel clearly shows the need for increasing the skill sets of rummaging teams.

Fostering international collaboration among law enforcement and prosecuting authorities is a core objective of the Cocaine Route Programme, both within West Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and across the Atlantic. Enhancing the capacity of inter-agency teams is one of the main outputs of the SEACOP project, which has trained teams from several West African countries in the art of rummaging.

The composition of the crew, the registration of the vessel, and the cargo itself, point towards shifts in drug trafficking scenarios. In recent communications CORMS has drawn attention to the increasing involvement of Eastern European organised crime groups in cocaine trafficking. Nine men were arrested on board of the Hamal, all of them Turkish nationals. In terms of criminal activity, Turkey is conventionally associated with the organisation of overland heroin traffick from Eastern Turkey into Western Europe. The vessel, the Hamal, was registered in Tanzania, on the Eastern seaboard of Africa.

Combined, these facts are further proof of the adaptability of criminal networks in terms of cargo and routing. For law enforcement they underline the need for continuous adaptability and the need of remaining alert to changing threat scenarios. With regard to cocaine, possibly the most lucrative illicit substance at present, there are no fixed trading patterns, only a determination to bringing the product to market.