Spanish police seized more than two tons of cocaine from a ship with a Venezuelan flag in the Atlantic Ocean and arrested the seven crew members, Spain's interior ministry said on Monday.
The operation, carried out alongside the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the UK's National Crime Agency, and Portuguese police — started in January when authorities learned of a plan to ship a "large quantity" of cocaine to Spain.
Spanish police intercepted the ship, its crew members, and the drugs on May 4.
The seven people on board were Venezuelan nationals, the ministry said, adding that a gun had also been seized alongside 2,400 kg of cocaine.
While Venezuela itself does not produce cocaine, its location next to Colombia, as well as corruption with the government and military, have helped it become a major transit point for cocaine headed to the US and Europe. Several senior officials have been accused of involvement with drug traffickers. The country's first lady's nephews were convicted of drug trafficking in a US court in November.
The vessel, a small, rusted fishing boat according to images distributed by police, has since been towed to Spain's Canary Islands.
Separately, a shipment of 5.5 tons of cocaine destined for Spain was intercepted off the coast of Ecuador, and 24 people, both on the ship and in Spain, were arrested in that operation, the interior ministry said on Monday.
The shipment was being organized by a drugs ring based in Galicia, in northern Spain, and two people were arrested in Madrid and another two in Vigo by Spanish police.
The other 20, including one Spaniard, were arrested on board the cargo ship by Ecuadorian police, who intercepted it before its planned passage through the Panama Canal on its way to Spain, the interior ministry said.
That seizure brought the total amount of cocaine seized by Ecuador in the first half of May up to nearly 10 metric tons, underscoring the country's emergence as a major drug transshipment point.
(Reporting for Reuters by Sarah White, editing by Larry King)
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