Drug traffickers have ditched bales of hashish worth an estimated €4,762,000 into the ocean while being chased by border guards through the Strait of Gibraltar.
The drugs, which weighed nearly 800kgs, were recovered after police received a tip-off that five Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) loaded with bales of cannabis were entering the contested waters around the small British territory on Spain’s southern tip.
According to a statement from the Royal Gibraltar Police, drugs runners on the boats started throwing their illicit cargo overboard in an effort to pick up speed when customs officers began pursuing them.
Once the startled smugglers had cleared Gibraltan waters, officer from Spain’s Guardia Civil took up the pursuit, but were unable to catch the traffickers after they disposed of their load and sped away.
After retracing the path of the pursuit, border police recovered a total of 37 bales of cannabis resin.
“This highlights the close cooperation that exists not just among local law enforcement agencies, but also with the Guardia Civil in combating crime, particularly drug trafficking, across the Straits of Gibraltar,” the Royal Gibraltar Police statement said.
Royal Gibraltar Police crews have been involved in nine separate high-speed pursuits off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula since 21 December, the statement continued to say.
While the Rock’s police force explicitly referred to the close cooperation between itself and Spain’s Guardia Civil during the operation, the two authorities often clash over sovereignty and jurisdiction, with the Gibraltan authorities regularly criticising their Spanish counterparts for straying into their territorial waters without permission.
Back in August 2015, Spain criticised Gibraltar for allowing its waters to become a safe haven for drug smugglers, and a key entry point for criminal gangs looking to traffic illegal substances into mainland Europe.
Both the Gibraltan and Spanish coastguards regularly intercept smugglers attempting to bring drugs onto the Iberian Peninsula. In a case similar to this week’s recovery, the Royal Gibraltar Police Marine Section pulled 35 bales of cannabis resin out of the ocean last February after they were jettisoned by smugglers.
In July, Guardia Civil recovered 89 bales of drugs from the sea after two operations involving high-speed pursuits of smuggling vessels. In both cases, traffickers were able to outpace the police, either escaping by sea or by beaching their vessels and fleeing on foot.
Cannabis smuggling into the British territory has become even more of a concern after neighbouring Morocco was named the world’s top producer and exporter of the drug. Fourteen kilometres of water is all that separates the North African country from the southern-most tip of Gibraltar, making the Strait a major target for organised drug smuggling gangs.