Spain Seizes 11 Tons of Cocaine Hidden With “Voluminous Containers”

cocaine smuggling Spain
Import company sahippg large numbers of containers and transshipped some before the cocaine arrived at the Port of Vigo hidden in between frozen fish (Puerto de Vigo file photo)

Published Dec 12, 2023 4:34 PM by The Maritime Executive


Spanish police busted two cocaine smuggling operations yielding one of the largest seizures in Spanish history and dramatically interrupting the flow of cocaine into Europe. They believe that the two groups were separate but both were using import companies the police believe as a front and a large volume of containers coming from South America to conceal their activities.

Announcing the seizure of 11 tons of cocaine and the arrest of 20 individuals of “Balkan origin,” the police called it one of the largest operations in Europe. They seized 7,500 kilos of cocaine coming through the port of Vigo hidden between frozen tuna. They described this as the largest seizure ever carried out in the Galicia region. The second bust centered on Valencia and yielded 3,400 kilos hidden in a secret double-bottom in a shipping container. 

Spain’s National Police and Tax Agency were collaborating for months to untangle the complex business network and elaborate efforts by the cartels to hide the smuggling through as the police described it, a “voluminous flow of containers.” Departing South America, the containers were in some instances being transshipped through ports such as Algeciras before reaching the Port of Vigo. Even once the containers arrived on the Iberian peninsular, the police said there were elaborate efforts to hide the activities.

An import company based in A Coruña was believed to be acting as a front for one of the operations. The police said the company was using various companies of origin for the flow of containers with only a few of the containers smuggling the narcotics. The investigation was tracking the company’s import containers for months and previous inspections at the port had not found drugs. On this occasion, the company was importing frozen fish and seafood. The inspection produced “an amount of drugs never seen before in Galicia,” the police reported.

The parallel investigation focused on a group in the Valencian town of Xirivella. In this instance, the police believe the strategy was to make it appear that the containers had been abandoned before the smugglers moved in to retrieve the drugs. Four containers arrived at the port of Valencia at the beginning of November and stayed there for almost a month.

The terminal then received a change of destination to another company that ordered the four containers delivered at the end of the month. On November, 29, the police reported the first of the four containers left Valencia and was moved to a vacant lot. Again, there was no activity at the container with the police believing that the smugglers were watching the container to see if there was any police activity.

The following day the remaining three containers were dispatched to the town of Xirivella and the first container was also transferred to the same destination. Police observed a man in a van driving around near the containers but again there was no immediate move to unload the containers. The group finally went to open the containers and that is when they were arrested after they had partially released the double bottom of one container but before unloading began. 

Firefighters were brought in to access the containers. They opened the false bottom in the containers and the police reported three of the four containers did not carry the narcotics. Again, they believe all of this was part of a concerted plot to hide the smuggling and elude capture.

Based on four different sets of markings found on the cocaine, the police believe the drugs were to have been distributed to at least four different locations in Europe.