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UK's biggest ever cocaine haul found on luxury yacht

A record £300m haul of cocaine has been seized and six alleged members of an international drugs gang arrested, officials said yesterday.

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, officials from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) said. The hiding of the drugs haul in the 44-tonne yacht has been labelled "ingenious" by officials and took six days of searching to find.

French authorities were alerted to the suspicious £1m craft Louise while it was in the Caribbean in May and it was then tracked to Southampton, on its way to Holland. It is understood the cocaine, which originated in South America, was packed inside the boat while it was in Venezuela.

The average purity of cocaine seized at the UK border is just 63%, officials said. The haul is estimated to be worth between £50m wholesale and £300m 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 yesterday - 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 (£87,300), two Harley Davidsons, two firearms, a silencer and ecstasy was also seized.

A UKBA spokesman said it took days to find the drugs.

"The cocaine took up a space of about four cubic metres and was fitted neatly under the diving platform aft with access from the engine room," he said.

"It required some really good blanking panels to hide them and it was ingenious."

The Dutch police were acting on intelligence provided by Soca's international network and the French Customs Investigation Service (DNRED).

The yacht had been transported from the British Virgin Islands on board a specially designed Dutch-registered ship. It was coming to Europe to be refitted.

Factfile

The biggest-ever seizure of cocaine in Britain was of unusual purity at 90%. The usual purity level is around 63%. When cut it would have made up to eight tonnes of the drug, enough to supply a third of the UK market for a year. The drug would have made up to seven million street deals with a value of £300m.

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