Photo: RUI MINDERICO/LUSA

Operation Maré Branca: €210 million-worth of cocaine seized – “the largest haul in Portugal in 15 years”

PJ judicial police have announced the apprehension of 5.2 tons of cocaine on the ‘high seas’, worth ‘a minimum of €210 million’. It’s the most significant capture in Portugal in the last 15 years, and one of the largest ever to have been made by authorities in Europe.

Operation Maré Branca involved Spanish police (the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia de Espanha), the Portuguese Navy and Air Force, the drug enforcement agency (DEA) of the United States and the National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom.

Authorities struck “in the last few days”, intercepting a 24-metre yacht in the Atlantic Ocean which was being used to transport huge quantities of cocaine from South America into Europe.

Those on board – three men, all foreigners – are now being questioned and will shortly appear before magistrates to hear bail conditions.

The men are suspected of being part of “a powerful transnational criminal organisation dedicated to the trafficking of large quantities of cocaine between Latin America and the European Continent”, says a communiqué issued by the PJ.

In total 183 ‘bales of cocaine’ were recovered, all of them destined for onward transport once delivered to a ‘coastal region on the Iberian Peninsula’.

It is not clear from the communiqué which port the suspected traffickers’ yacht was making for, nor where exactly authorities effected their apprehension.

A press conference later today at Lisbon’s Naval Base in Alfeite may give these details. A note at the bottom of the communiqué says it will involve “high ranking members of the PJ, Navy, Air Force and Cuerpo Nacional de Policia de Espanha”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com