Image shows Spanish Guardia Civil in pursuit of narco boat in Strait of Gibraltar. image: guardia civil

Galician mafia drug boats “made in Portugal”

Spanish law prohibits construction of rapid semi-rigid power boats over 8 m 

PJ police suspect that there are at least 30 companies in northern Portugal constructing and selling ‘drug boats’ (so called ‘narco launches’) used by the Galician trafficking mafia.

These boats are rubber, or semi-rigid powerboats, with up to four engines that can take them up to speeds of 30 knots (60 km/ hour).

A law passed in Spain, designed to combat drug trafficking by sea, outlawed the construction of boats of this kind in 2018.

Since then “many Spanish and Galicians have begun to appear in the organisational charts of nautical construction companies in the Minho region”, writes Expresso.

Police suspect that ‘under cover of legal business in Portugal’, these companies are “taking the opportunity to equip Galician drug-traffickers with the boats they so need”.

Many of the boats are “hidden in derelict warehouses in the north and south of the country”, sometimes for months, says Expresso.

Two years ago, for instance, the PJ, Maritime Police and GNR dismantled a ‘production unit’… operating clandestinely on an industrial estate in Faro – “a fact, up till then, unheard of in the region.

“Between the end of last year and the beginning of this, authorities found various boats abandoned, suspected of belonging to drug trafficking networks. None of them had drugs inside them”, Expresso admits.

“Just in the last week three (such boats) were found in the Algarve: whenever this happens it means the unloading operation of the drugs will have gone badly. Either that, or engine problems or another fault made this trip their last”.

“Traffickers don’t tend to repair their boats”, a police source explains. “They prefer to abandon them, because they are heavy, and transporting them by land is difficult”.

The PJ believes that “in the same warehouse” close to the border between Portugal and Galicia there are various boat-building companies “co-existing together” and making ‘narco launches’ for drug traffickers.

Police want Portugal to follow Spain’s example and simply make the manufacture of power boats of this type illegal. The Ministry of Justice is understood to have already created a ‘task force’ to come up with the wording for a proposed law.

But in the meantime, until authorities have ‘concrete proof’ of what is going on in Portugal, they are unable to ‘move in’.

“We cannot do anything unless we can prove the illicit purpose (of these nautical companies)”, Avelino Lima, coordinator of the PJ’s drug trafficking unit told Galician newspaper A Voz da Galiza. “We have to be able to prove the boats are not for regular sports fishing… and this isn’t easy”.

Three companies are particularly under the spotlight at the moment, says Expresso. One is in the Minho (and has two Spanish directors on the board); one is in Greater Lisbon – and another is “in the western region” (Costa Vicentina?).

“None of those in charge wanted to give any statements on their business in Portugal or with Galicia”, the paper adds.

FUEL IS ACHILLES HEEL OF NARCO LAUNCHES

Many of these ‘narco launches’ have three, even four engines – a total of 1200 horse power –  which allows them to reach high speeds, and often elude authorities even once they have been spotted.

The only ‘problem’ is fuel, particularly if they are travelling long-distances (for example to Madeira “to fill up with cocaine”, or to the Straits of Gibraltar, to pick up bales of hashish).

Typically, one of these boats will take loads of one to two tons. They have been known to take up to seven tons.

But adding jerry cans of fuel to a boat packed with drugs isn’t ideal.

This logistical problem is usually solved by having ‘support boats’ with spare fuel on board, allowing for refueling at sea.

Says Expresso, the police have videos showing as many as five to 10 narco launches ‘stopped’ in the Straits of Gibraltar waiting for a consignment of drugs – either to transport to the Algarve, or into the Mediterranean.

“The problem is serious”, said the paper’s source.

NUMBERS 2021

Just in 2021 10.7 tons of hashish and 8.8 tons of were seized by PJ police.

Last month, a narco launch carrying 1.6 tons of hashish was seized in the Algarve in a joint operation involving the PJ, Maritime Police, Navy and Airforce.

Consumption of cocaine has increased by 40% in Lisbon, according to data released by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction following analysis of the city’s waste water.

Just before the pandemic hit, PJ police took part in the first capture of a ‘narco submarine’, believed to have been carrying as much as 300 kgs of cocaine.

Says Voz da Galiza’s specialist journalist on this subject: “Portugal has always been the hiding place for Galician drug traffickers when they are wanted in Spain”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com