Last week, Spain’s customs police boarded a highly suspicious cargo vessel off the coast of the Canary Islands and seized 4,500 kilos of cocaine from her accommodations.
On December 20, the freighter Blume departed the high-risk smuggling port of Santos, Brazil, where she had been anchored for more than a month. She was curiously empty, carrying just 200 tonnes of coffee on a 7,000 nautical mile commercial voyage to Latvia. She had recently been sold and reflagged with Togo, the second-to-last registry on the Paris MOU black list, and she had accumulated 70 PSC deficiencies since her change of ownership.
As she crossed the Atlantic, her course curved eastwards towards the coast of Morocco, off the route to her declared destination. The waters off Morocco are known for ship-to-ship transfers between smuggling vessels.
The vessel caught the attention of Spanish customs authorities. Spain’s Civil Guard, the Customs Surveillance Service and the National Police teamed up to investigate the ship and conduct a boarding operation before she could transfer off her cargo.
The Customs Surveillance Service patrol vessel Fulmar was dispatched to find and interdict the Blume. On the morning of the 18th, the Fulmar’s crew sighted the rusty freighter and dispatched a boarding team. In heavy seas, the team came alongside and hooked a ladder to Fulmar’s rail, quickly putting law enforcement officers on deck.
A search of the vessel turned up dozens of bales of cocaine piled up in the ship’s common areas. The Blume was detained and diverted to Santa Cruz de Tenerife for a search, and law enforcement officers carried 3,000 tonnes of cocaine down the gangway (later upgraded to 4,500 tonnes).
15 crewmembers from the vessel were detained, including 13 Pakistani nationals and two Albanians.
Major drug busts occur with regularity off the Canary Islands, which are located on the shipping lanes between Brazil, North Africa and the European mainland. Last month, Spanish security forces intercepted a fishing boat to the north of the Canary Islands, bound for Galicia with a cargo of several tonnes of cocaine.