Operation Cristal involved various authorities in Portugal, including the Navy and Air Force. Photo: Marinha Portuguesa

Operation Cristal apprehends 1,000 kilos of cocaine on high seas; yacht sinks

Eight arrested; two of them crewmembers

Little has been explained as to how a 14-metre yacht seized carrying 1,000 kilos of cocaine, ended up sinking following ‘interception by Naval special forces on the high seas’. Focus today is on the eight people arrested, and the essentially good result, in terms of combating drug trafficking.

In a statement, PJ judicial police have explained the vessel was crossing the Atlantic between South America and Europe, and well in the sights of authorities which became aware of this route as part of a “complex investigation that took place in recent years”.

A combined operation involving the Navy and Air Force,  he Organised Crime Investigation Brigade of the National Police Force, under Eurojust, and Spanish and British authorities caught up with the vessel north of the western group of Azores islands “in the last few days”.

Two crewmembers were arrested “in possession of about 1,000 kilos of cocaine” and transferred to a Navy ship.

What seems then to have happened is that the ‘seized vessel’ was towed, behind the Navy ship, back to port in the Azores – at which point it “ended up sinking”.

The PJ police statement refers to the “deficient security and navigability conditions of the vessel”, which it says had been cleared of its narcotic cargo. 

While this operation was underway, house searches went ahead in various location on the Portuguese mainland, resulting in six further arrests.

In total “three vehicles, several sophisticated communications equipment, documentation relevant to the investigation, a significant amount of cash, several cryptocurrency wallets, jewellery and watches of high value” were also seized.

.The suspects are of various nationalities, including European and South American, with police and judicial records for crimes of drug trafficking, money laundering and criminal association.

Says the statement, the two crewmembers have already been before ‘competent judicial authorities at the Court of Ponta Delgada’ and remanded in custody.

The remaining six detainees are to appear in court in Évora for application of bail measures ‘deemed appropriate’.

The investigation is in the hands of Évora’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, concludes Lusa.