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Armed Gang Boards Bulker in Apparent Search for Cocaine

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Published Oct 11, 2021 11:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

When 20 new crewmembers signed on to the bulker Trudy at an anchorage off Normandy last week, they likely did not expect that they would be swept up in the aftermath of a drug bust - but on Monday morning, they had unwelcome visitors.

The Trudy was intercepted and boarded by French police off Dunkirk on October 1, bringing an early end to her transatlantic voyage from Brazil. She was diverted to the port for a thorough search, and officials found and removed more than one ton of cocaine that had been concealed on board. It was the biggest cocaine seizure in French waters since 2018, and a top customs official hailed it as "emblematic of the daily mobilization of customs in the fight against drugs."

19 members of the Trudy's crew were arrested on suspicion of smuggling, and the vessel was detained and moored alongside at Dunkirk's west bulk cargo terminal. A replacement crew was brought in to care for the ship while the inquiry continued. 

In the early hours of Monday morning, at about 0100, approximately 10 armed intruders boarded the vessel and took the replacement crew captive. The leaders of this unauthorized boarding party spoke English, and they were "violent and threatening" in their manner, according to local police. They searched the vessel, "accompanied by the captain," but did not appear to take anything. They departed empty-handed at about 0500 hours, before sunrise. No serious injuries were reported.

The port's security forces did not intercept the intruders, and no arrests have been made. As to the motive, "the likely goal was to recover drugs and money," a police source told Ouest France.

France's National Juristdiction Against Organized Crime (Junalco) is treating the boarding as a "kidnapping and forcible confinement by an organized gang," according to Le Figaro. The national anti-narcotics office, OFAST, will head up the inquiry.