GEORGETOWN –– The captain and first officer of an ocean-going tug boat have been found guilty of drug trafficking following the biggest ever UK seizure of illegal drugs.
The cocaine, with an estimated potential street value of £512 million once adulterated, was found hidden on board the Tanzanian flagged MV Hamal in April 2015.
The vessel was intercepted by the Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Somerset, and Border Force cutter HMC Valiant in the North Sea approximately 100 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire.
They were acting on intelligence supplied by the NCA, working in co-operation with the French customs investigation service, DNRED, and the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre.
NCA officers were deployed on HMS Somerset as the MV Hamal was boarded and escorted into the Port of Aberdeen.
Investigators began a detailed search and found a sealed metal hatch, which provided access to a tank containing the cocaine. Border Force officers wearing specialist breathing equipment entered the tank and over the next two days (27 and 28 April) 128 bales of cocaine were removed, each weighing approximately 25 kilos. The total weight of the cocaine taken off the MV Hamal was in excess of 3.2 tonnes.
Forensic tests revealed the cocaine had a purity of between 58 and 74 per cent. It would likely have been cut three times over before being sold, meaning it had the potential to create almost ten tonnes of adulterated street level purity cocaine, valued at around £512 million.
A deck log and engine log books stated that the MV Hamal had spent time in West Africa after leaving Turkey. However, analysis of the ship’s navigation system showed that, even though the AIS navigational beacon was turned off, GPS had continued to monitor movements on a laptop computer.
This proved that the ship had sailed from Tenerife on March 8, 2015 and travelled across the Atlantic, arriving in Georgetown, Guyana, on March 21. It left five days later and, significantly, paused its journey for around 12 to 15 hours around two days after leaving port. This is where investigators believe the drugs were loaded on.
Following the seizure NCA international liaison officers worked with the Guyanese authorities to trace the location of the vessel whilst it was in Guyana as well as obtaining details regarding individuals associated with it.
Mobile phone evidence placed a number of the crew in the Georgetown area of Guyana, contradicting the log books.
Following a 12-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow, ship captain Mumin Sahin and first mate, Emin Ozmen, were found guilty of two counts of drug trafficking. They will be sentenced on 12 August. The charges against four crew members were not proven. Three others had been acquitted earlier in the proceedings.
Freed were Mustafa Guven, Kayacan Dalgakiran, Umit Colakel and Ibrahim Dag, all from Istanbul.
NCA senior investigating officer John McGowan said: “This seizure was unprecedented in scale, the biggest ever class A haul in the UK, and we believe the biggest ever maritime seizure of cocaine in Europe.
“We work closely with law enforcement colleagues in the UK and around the world to protect the security of our border. By preventing drug trafficking and putting those responsible behind bars, we are also protecting our communities from the harm these drugs could have caused.”