Portsmouth Warship In £17m Cocaine Bust

The Royal Navy's revealed how it caught a gang of drug smugglers with cocaine worth £16.8 million by sneaking up behind them in a 5,200-tonne Portsmouth-based warship.

HMS Manchester "stalked'' the small fishing vessel being used by the drug traffickers throughout the night operation in the Caribbean.

Then, while the three-man crew of the vessel were not aware of them, the Destroyer drew up only 150 yards from them and launched its sea boats.

The Navy managed to intercept a total of 240kg (530lb) of cocaine which the traffickers were hurriedly attempting to jettison.

Eight bales of the drug were thrown overboard, but the Navy boat crews were able to recover two, each weighing 30kg, as evidence.

A Royal Navy spokesman said:

"A softly-softly approach caught a trio of drug traffickers napping as their fishing vessel was stalked through the Caribbean night by the Royal Navy warship HMS Manchester.

"The surprised three-man crew of the vessel suddenly realised the game was up as the 5,200-tonne Type 42 destroyer, with her sea boats launched, loomed up out of the darkness just 150 metres off the stern of the smugglers' craft.

"They hurriedly tried to jettison their cargo of an estimated 240 kilos of cocaine worth £16.8 million to the traffickers and dealers.''

The operation began when a US maritime patrol plane spotted the suspicious-looking fishing vessel in daylight in the Colombian Basin, an area of the Caribbean between Colombia and Panama.

The aircraft alerted HMS Manchester, which at the time was 80 miles to the west.

The Destroyer's Commanding Officer, Commander Rex Cox, ordered his ship to head to the area and make a covert approach after nightfall in order to give the target vessel as little warning as possible.

Commander Cox said:

"The smugglers had nowhere to hide thanks to the stealthy approach and quick reactions of the ship's boarding teams.

"Valuable evidence was secured and the trafficking of a substantial quantity of cocaine has been disrupted.

"It has been a cracking day for HMS Manchester, and a cracking day for the continued campaign against narcotics trafficking in the Caribbean.''

HMS Manchester left its Portsmouth base for its current patrol mission in late May this year and is due to return home in time for Christmas.