Six held after £300m cocaine seized
A record £300 million haul of cocaine has been seized and six alleged members of an international drugs gang arrested, officials have said.
A total of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine, with a purity of 90%, was found hidden inside a 65ft pleasure cruiser at Southampton docks in June.
It is the biggest haul of Class A drugs ever found in the UK, said officials from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).
French authorities were alerted to the suspicious £1 million craft Louise while it was in the Caribbean in May and it was then tracked to Southampton, on its way to the Netherlands. Officials spent six days searching the vessel and found the drugs packed in a specially-designed compartment beneath the boat's bathing platform.
It is understood the cocaine, which originated in South America, was packed inside the boat while it was in Venezuela. The drug was 90% pure, while the average purity of cocaine seized at the UK border is just 63%, officials said. The haul is estimated to be worth between £50 million wholesale and £300 million on the streets.
Since the drugs were found in June, the UKBA has helped Dutch police track members of the gang and six men were arrested during early-morning raids on Tuesday - two 44-year-olds in Amsterdam, a 60-year-old in Meppel, two, aged 32 and 34, in Heusden, and a 27-year-old in Waalwijk.
A total of 100,000 euros (£87,300), two Harley Davidson motorcycles, two firearms, a silencer and some ecstasy were also seized.
Immigration minister Damian Green said: "This was a significant drugs seizure which was made possible by the co-operation of our international partners. UK Border Agency staff have shown vigilance, dedication and determination to uncover this shipment.
"Our efforts have helped bring an international crime gang to book and the message is clear: we will investigate and prosecute anyone who tries to smuggle banned substances through UK borders."
The Dutch police were acting on intelligence provided by Soca's international network and the French Customs Investigation Service (DNRED).