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Turkish smugglers jailed after cocaine worth £512m found on tug boat


The MV Hamal tug being watched by an NCA officer as it was intercepted by the frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant (PA/National Crime Agency)

The MV Hamal tug being watched by an NCA officer as it was intercepted by the frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant (PA/National Crime Agency)

The MV Hamal tug being watched by an NCA officer as it was intercepted by the frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant (PA/National Crime Agency)

Two Turkish sailors convicted of smuggling a record £512 million worth of cocaine aboard a tug boat have each been jailed for at least 20 years.

Mumin Sahin and Emin Ozmen were found guilty following trial after three tonnes of the Class A drug were discovered inside the MV Hamal about 100 miles off the coast of Aberdeen in the North Sea.

The 2015 seizure is said to be the biggest single cocaine haul ever recovered at sea in Europe.

The drugs were found hidden in a secret hold in the Tanzanian-registered tugboat, which was sailing from Istanbul to Guyana via Tenerife and then to the North Sea, when it was stopped by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter HMC Valiant following a tip-off from French intelligence.

Ship's captain Sahin, 47, was sentenced to 22 years while second captain Ozmen, 51, was given a 20-year term at the High Court in Glasgow on Friday.

Judge Lord Kinclaven told the men the quantity of drugs was "not only significant but massive" and drugs trafficking had a "devastating impact" on people and communities.

He said: "You were involved in a most serious operation of commercial scale involving the transportation of cocaine by ship in an operation which crossed international and indeed intercontinental boundaries."

He told Sahin he was "not at the top of the drugs tree" but had played an important role in the offence while Ozmen's role was "to some extent a lesser one".

Investigators drilled through a steel plate into a secret compartment to find 128 bales of cocaine weighing 3.2 tonnes which took nearly three days to remove.

The entrance was found under a wardrobe with the opening cemented over - one of the most intricate concealments the Border Force has ever encountered.

Sahin and Ozmen were found guilty of being concerned with the carrying and concealing of cocaine on the ship between February 20 and April 23 last year, and of being concerned in the supply of cocaine between April 21 and April 23.

The men, both first offenders who have worked in the shipping industry since leaving school, continue to maintain their innocence.

Charges against four other men were found not proven.

Sahin's lawyer, Jonathan Crowe, said the married father-of-two was a "glorified mule".

He said: "Someone who was involved in the transportation of the drugs. Someone who was able to captain a boat.

"In regard to the drugs hierarchy, Mr Sahin is certainly not at the top of the drugs tree but somewhere further down."

Mr Crowe said he is "devastated" about missing out on milestones for his daughter, nine, and son, 13, and "just wants to go home to Turkey".

Both men have not seen their families since being taken into custody in April 2015 as their families struggle to get visa approval.

Crown Agent David Harvie said the Crown Office worked with authorities in Guyana, Spain, Denmark, Norway and the US to piece crucial evidence together.

He said: "Scotland's reach in pursuing criminals is on a truly global scale and in this case we have dealt a substantial economic blow to organised criminals."

Despite strong intelligence the Hamal was carrying a large volume of drugs, it could not be boarded in international waters by the UK authorities without the permission of the Tanzanian government, something they had never previously granted.

The Crown Prosecution Service said there was a "high risk" the vessel could have escaped but for its criminal justice adviser in Tanzania securing boarding permission within 24 hours.

National Crime Agency senior investigating officer John McGowan said: "Today's sentencing is the culmination of a truly international investigation into a seizure that was unprecedented in its scale for Scotland, the UK and Europe.

"Although the final destination for this haul of drugs is likely to have been mainland Europe, there is no doubt in my mind that some of it would have ended up on the streets of the UK, fuelling further criminality.

"By making this seizure and putting these men behind bars not only have we protected the public but we have also caused major disruption to an international organised criminal network."

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