UK Sets a New Record With Five-Tonne Cocaine Bust

Cocaine from banana shipment NCA
Image courtesy NCA

Published Feb 22, 2024 10:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK's National Crime Agency has made what it believes to be the largest seizure of narcotics in British history. On February 8, its officers seized 5.7 tonnes of cocaine that had been concealed within a cargo of bananas from South America. The new record exceeds the previous one by two tonnes. 

The NCA's Near Europe Task Force identified the inbound shipment and flagged it for inspection. It was ultimately headed for the Port of Hamburg, authorities believe, and would have been distributed on the German market. The NCA is investigating the identity of the importers, in cooperation with European partner agencies. 

The NCA estimates the street price of the cocaine at about $570 million. The typical wholesale price in South America would be in the range of $12 million.

Courtesy UK NCA

Authorities in the UK are concerned by the health implications of cocaine consumption, but also by the violent crime that follows its distribution and sale. NCA says that the cocaine trade has seen an "exponential rise" in associated violence in the past few years, as the gangs that dominate imports fight over a lucrative market. The UK's cocaine distribution network has estimated turnover of about $5 billion per year. 

This is an industrial-scale operation, but there is still a role for smaller players. On Saturday, UK agents busted a fishing boat carrying 200 kilos of ketamine on a cross-channel journey. The five crewmembers allegedly transported the drugs from Amsterdam to Suffolk, then offloaded the shipment to a car. UK NCA investigators were watching the vessel throughout the transit and intercepted it on arrival. In addition to the drugs, a "deactivated shotgun" was found on board the fishing boat.