The Guardia Civil and the Agencia Tributaria ADUANAS in Spain delivered a serious blow to transnational drug trafficking activities by intercepting and seizing a shipment of almost 16 tonnes of cannabis resin transported on the merchant vessel JUST REEMA sailing under the Congolese flag.
The competent authorities have taken into custody all nine members of the crew consisting of six Syrian and three Indian nationals. The estimated value of the illegal commodity amounts to approximately 24 million euros on the Spanish market, and at least twice as much in more distant EU countries.
The vessel was boarded on the evening of 28 June 2015 and immediately secured by the Specialised Intervention Teams (UEI) of the Guardia Civil, not long after the vessel crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. The boarding of the vessel took place in compliance with Article 17 of the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs.
The detection of the possible illicit nature of this maritime shipment was possible thanks to the coordinated and robust law enforcement partnership implemented against large-scale drugs trafficking across the Mediterranean Sea, driven by Spain, Italy and France in cooperation with other affected EU and Third States, with the support of Europol and CeCLAD – M.
This joint operational cooperation framework also allowed for the constant monitoring of the illegal shipment along its journey in order to collectively assess and decide on the most suitable assets, time and place to execute the intervention.
However, the verification of the illegal nature of the goods loaded on the ship did not turn out to be an easy undertaking. Once escorted into the Port of Malaga, the investigators of the Guardia Civil gained access to the storage chamber through its two entries, respectively hidden under tonnes of steel chains and loose salt used as a legal cover load.
On-the-spot assistance was ensured by the French OCRTIS (Office Central pour la Répression du Traffic Illicite des Stupéfiants) and the Italian Guardia di Finanza and D.C.S.A. (Direzione Centrale per i Servizi Antidroga).
Europol played a crucial role in this international law enforcement cooperation partnership by assisting in the facilitation of intelligence exchanges between the involved parties, providing subsequent criminal intelligence analysis, hosting the operational meetings and providing on-the-spot support.