Police divers have found and retrieved a 137kg consignment of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than £10 million, hidden deep inside a ship’s hull at the Sheerness port in Kent.
The discovery is only the second instance of a major underwater concealment of class A drugs being seized off the UK coast – but with three times as much cocaine found as on the first occasion, in Bristol in November 2021.
A Panamanian-registered container ship carrying a cargo of bananas had docked in Sheerness while on its way from Panama to the Netherlands, and on 14 October the divers were sent to investigate its hull, based on intelligence supplied by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The search was carried out in restricted visibility over five hours by a specialist National Police Chiefs Council dive-team, supported by officers from the Border Force National Deep Rummage Team and port operator Peel Ports.
They eventually found four large hold-alls concealed below the waterline inside the sea-chest, a seawater intake area used to help stabilise vessels. The divers had to extract the bags from behind bolted grilles.
“This was an extremely rare and sophisticated concealment, and shows how far criminal networks will go to get dangerous drugs like cocaine into circulation,” commented NCA operations manager David Phillips. “The sale of such class A drugs is controlled by gangs who inflict violence and exploitation in our communities.”
Thanking the divers for work carried out in “challenging conditions”, Phillips said that the collaborative effort demonstrated “our collective determination to tackle organised criminal groups head-on, and stem the supply of harmful drugs like cocaine”. NCA investigators are now collaborating on the case with Dutch and Panamanian law-enforcement agencies.