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High Tide: French Police Warn Cocaine Fortune Hunters Off Beaches

A gendarmerie helicopter flies over the beach on November 11, 2019 in Capbreton, southwestern France, where cocaine packages have been found last days.
A gendarmerie helicopter flies over the beach on November 11, 2019 in Capbreton, southwestern France, where cocaine packages have been found last days.

French authorities have closed beaches in southwest France as packages of cocaine and other drugs continue to wash up daily along the Atlantic coast, with nearly 900 kilogrammes discovered since mid-October, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Officials say the cocaine is extremely pure at some 83 percent, warning people who find the packages not to touch them but to warn the police.

That has not stopped some from trying to get their hands on the drugs, whose street value would be in the millions of euros, prompting police to close beaches and start carrying out patrols.

On Monday, a 17-year-old was caught with five kilos of cocaine at Lacanau, a closed-off surfing beach near the southwestern city of Bordeaux — he had come from Toulouse, a three-hour drive away.

A half-dozen other beaches in the area have been closed as well, with police stopping walkers for searches and also checking cars leaving nearby parking lots.

A police helicopter was also being used along the 125-kilometre stretch between Cap Ferret and Soulac-sur-Mer, which includes the Lacanau beach.

A woman who gave her name as Martine failed to notice the closure signs at the Porge beach on Monday, when officers told her and a friend to leave.

"When we turned around we saw a package next to the water," she said, saying they alerted the police, who estimated it weighed some four kilos before sealing it in a plastic bag.

"It would have been tempting to take it, but we're honest!" she told AFP.

'Very dangerous'

"We've recovered 872 kilos," or 1,920 pounds, Philippe Astruc, the prosecutor in the western city of Rennes, where officials are coordinating the searches, told AFP in a statement.

It was a sharp jump from just two days ago, when 763 kilos were reported.

"Intense surveillance has been set up by different services, notably the customs agency, all along the French coast," Astruc's office said Sunday.

"In this form it's a very dangerous product that could cause an overdose," it said.

Officials have reported the drugs turning up on beaches near Nantes all the way to the resort town of Biarritz, more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) to the south.

French investigators are working with European counterparts as well as the US Drug Enforcement Agency to try to determine why the drugs are washing up.

"There are several hypotheses, but for the moment we think it's likely they were jettisoned because of a mechanical problem or during a storm," Astruc said in a statement on Sunday.

The Sud-Ouest newspaper reported over the weekend that some packages found on the beach at Arcachon, southwest of Bordeaux,were marked "Diamante" or "Brillante."

Packages of cocaine marked with the same words also reportedly washed up in Florida during hurricane Dorian in September, it said.

Police seized a record or more than 140 tons of cocaine across Europe in 2017, the most recent data available from the EU's European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, published in June.

Most was seized in Belgium and Spain, long the main port of entry for the drug, and its purity has increased markedly over the past ten years, the agency said.