Cocaine worth £10 million has been seized after it was discovered hidden deep within a container ship at a port in Kent.
The drugs, which weighed 137 kilos, were found on a Panamanian-registered ship carrying a load of bananas.
They had been placed in four large holdalls which were hidden below the water line inside the sea chest, an intake area for seawater to assist stability.
The ship was destined for the Netherlands but, on the basis of information supplied by the NCA, specialist teams undertook searches after the vessel docked at Sheerness Port on 14 October 2023.
A specialist Metropolitan Police Dive Unit took five hours to recover the drugs, after carrying out an underwater search of the ship’s hull in reduced visibility.
The cocaine was found hidden behind bolted-up grills.
Officers from the Border Force National Deep Rummage Team and officials from port operator Peel Ports were also involved in the operation.
The cocaine is likely to have had a UK street value in excess of £10 million once cut and sold.
It is one of only two underwater concealments of class A drugs of its kind ever discovered in the UK, the last being at Bristol in November 2021 when 46 kilos of cocaine was detected.
NCA Operations Manager David Phillips said: "This was an extremely rare and sophisticated concealment, and shows how far criminal networks will go to get dangerous drugs like cocaine into circulation.
"The sale of such class A drugs is controlled by gangs who inflict violence and exploitation in our communities.
"I’d like to thank the Metropolitan Police’s Diving Team, who worked in challenging conditions to recover the drugs, assisted by our colleagues in Border Force.
"Such collaboration shows our collective determination to tackle organised criminal groups head on, and stem the supply of harmful drugs like cocaine."
NCA investigators believe the end destination for the drugs was likely to have been the Netherlands and are now working with law enforcement partners there and in Panama.
Stephen Whitton, Deputy Director of Border Force Maritime Command, said:
"The combined efforts of the NCA, the Met Police, and Border Force, have prevented £10 million worth of cocaine from plaguing our streets and countries nearby.
"Border Force remain committed to working round the clock to intercept drug supply chains and will continue work closely with our counterparts to identify and prevent the new methods criminals take to smuggling illegal drugs, in or out of the UK."
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