ROME - Italian police have seized more than 10 tons of hashish stashed aboard a Dutch fishing boat and arrested its nine crew members. The raid was part of an international anti-drug trafficking initiative called "Libeccio International."
Italy's finance police boarded the vessel some 200 kilometers south of Sicily, after tracking it from the air for two days as it made its way through the Mediterranean. The boat had set sail from Malta and had met drug dealers arriving on speedboats off the coast of Morocco and Algeria. It was heading toward the Straits of Gibraltar.
Finance Police Commander Stefano Sogliuzzo said the behavior of the Quest fishing vessel had appeared anomalous, in particular when it stopped for 2 hours off the coast of Morocco. Further suspicions, he said, led them to obtain permission from the Netherlands to stop the vessel.
Once on board, police found packages of drugs of different sizes in a refrigerator and a gas tank. The plan had been to unload the drugs off the coast of Libya, Sogliuzzo said.
Finance police commander Francesco Mazzotta said the crew collaborated with police.
Officials said drugs recovered from the boat had a market value of more than $17 million. Italian authorities seized the drugs and confiscated the fishing vessel.
Of the nine crew members arrested, two of them, including the first officer, have been identified as members of a "dangerous" Maltese criminal organization. They had been arrested in Spain last year in a joint operation between the Italian finance police and Spanish police for trafficking 6,000 cases of contraband cigarettes. Another suspect was a Sicilian whose criminal record contains a previous conviction for armed robbery.
The raid was part of an international anti-drug trafficking initiative between Italy and a number of other European nations. Since 2014, Sicilian police have confiscated seven ships and seized 130 tons of drugs, worth upward of $1.4 billion.