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10 October 2013, 13:18
A Royal Navy warship deployed in the Caribbean has seized cannabis and cocaine with a street value of £58 million in two busts just days apart.
The seizure of 400kg of cocaine and almost 1.2 tonnes of marijuana in the separate incidents has been praised as another "fantastic success'' for the ship, which has carried out four major drugs busts in as many weeks and six so far during her deployment.
In the most recent bust, HMS Lancaster's Lynx helicopter chased a fast-moving speedboat, disabling it, and collected 17 packages of cocaine that had been dumped in the water.
And just days before, sailors on the Portsmouth-based warship recovered marijuana weighing almost 1.2 tonnes after they were ditched by a speedboat in the middle of a violent thunder storm.
Announcing the latest success, the Royal Navy said at a wholesale price the cocaine would be worth just over £17m and the cannabis around £1.1m - but at street level the values would be much higher, nearer £58m.
Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois said: "I visited HMS Lancaster earlier this year as the ship's company prepared for their deployment so I'm pleased to hear of the ship's fourth major drugs bust in as many weeks.
"We should be extremely proud of HMS Lancaster's actions in the Caribbean and efforts to disrupt the supply of illegal, life-destroying drugs.
"This is another fantastic success for the ship's company, their constant hard work and professionalism is a great international advert for the Royal Navy and our country. ''
In the most recent incident, which happened at the start of the month, the ship was alerted to suspected traffickers by a Canadian tanker which had spotted a speedboat in the Western Caribbean.
HMS Lancaster launched its Lynx helicopter - of 815 Naval Air Squadron, based in Yeovilton, Somerset - to pursue the boat, prompting the suspected drug runners to dump the drugs overboard.
A Royal Marine sniper in the helicopter disabled the boat by shooting a hole in the engine, allowing the US Coastguard team to apprehend those on board.
The HMS Lancaster crew and US Coastguards retrieved 17 large packages from the water, which were later found to be pure cocaine, thought to have a UK street value of around £55m.
HMS Lancaster's Commanding Officer, Commander Steve Moorhouse, said: "This is another fantastic result for Lancaster - and the multi-national counter-narcotics effort as a whole.
"The level of co-operation that exists between units and nations working with the Joint Interagency Task Force is second to none and hopefully this bust will make those who choose to smuggle narcotics in the region think twice.''
Just days earlier, the warship recovered marijuana weighing almost 1.2 tonnes when its crew had to recover 45 packets of the drug which had been dumped overboard in the middle of a thunder storm.
The seizure came after Lancaster's helicopter spotted a suspect vessel and started monitoring her movement.
As soon as the speedboat saw them, they dumped the drugs and tried to flee, prompting an all-night game of "cat-and-mouse'' which ended as soon as the speedboat entered Costa Rican waters and those on boat were arrested by waiting authorities.
The navy said the cocaine seizure is HMS Lancaster's sixth drugs bust of her deployment. Last month, £3.5m of marijuana was intercepted, while £100m of cocaine was seized in August as well as £700,000 of cannabis.
The warship works with a US Coastguard team who carry out operations to stop illegal drug traffickers at sea.
HMS Lancaster is on her fourth counter-narcotics patrol of the Caribbean region this deployment, and will continue to fight drugs trafficking until the end of the year.
Her patrols are part of Operation Martillo, a combined effort by 15 nations to prevent criminal organisations from moving goods by air or sea in Central America, and stopping drugs trafficking from South America to the Caribbean and on to the UK.
As well as counter-narcotics patrols, the ship is on hand to help British overseas territories in the region, especially to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief during the hurricane season.