The mess hall in Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas, with several stacked up mattresses where the 17 detained Indian nationals and two Turkish nationals slept over the last few days after their vessel was intercepted by T&T authorities and 400 kilogrammes of cocaine found hidden.

Mark Bassant

Lead Editor, Investigative Desk

The 19 crew members of the Throne vessel that was intercepted by T&T Coast Guard (TTCG) on Tuesday morning, in which 400 kilogrammes of cocaine was discovered, were temporarily moved from the Staubles Bay base in Chaguaramas and placed in police stations and the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) as the investigation continued into the multi-million dollar drug smuggling operation.

Sources told Guardian Media that the 17 Indian nationals ranging from ages 19-30 and the two Turkish nationals in their late forties were moved out of the coast guard base under police heavy security on Thursday night.

Sixteen of the crew members were placed at the IDC, while the Indian captain of the vessel was placed at a police station in the Port-of-Spain Division and the two Turkish nationals were placed at another police station also in the Port-of-Spain Division.

“They will be brought back today (Saturday) as the investigation continues and they attempt to drain the other fuel tanks,” one source indicated.

A joint team of officers from the Defence Force, with Commander Jason Kelshall leading the Special Naval Unit (SNU), discovered the cocaine hidden in a specially made compartment inside the fuel tanks of the Throne.

The cocaine, which was sealed in watertight packages, had an estimated street value of TT$160 million.

Guardian Media confirmed that the ship is managed by Stark Shipping Company, based in Turkey and understands that attorney at lawyer Om Lalla was hired to represent the captain of the ship and the two Turkish nationals.

Lalla, when contacted, confirmed he was representing the men and had visited them yesterday and spoke to them with the help of translators. Lalla said he had formally spoken to his clients, who have not been charged to date with any offence.

It was critical US intelligence that was provided to local law enforcement authorities that assisted them in interrupting a major drug pipeline to Europe after the vessel was intercepted along the North Coast of Trinidad early Tuesday morning.

Sources say that there is a “keen US interest in this investigation,” as US personnel maintained a heavy presence at Staubles Bay yesterday as further searches of the vessel will be carried out today (Saturday).

One source in the loop about the investigation said they will have to ascertain exactly how long the Turkish national identified as one of the masterminds behind the drug smuggling operation spent in Venezuela and who he had contacted while in the country.

The Throne left Ecuador several weeks ago and then made its way through the Panama Canal.

A source said the vessel later stopped in Venezuela where the drugs were loaded and the Turkish man identified as associated with a brokerage company also boarded. The vessel was later intercepted by TTCG in T&T’s territorial waters.

President Trump had indicated in early April that he was stepping up the fight against the scourge of illegal narcotics in this region by beefing up the US military presence in the Southern Caribbean with the help of 22 partner nations—which includes Trinidad and Tobago.

Trump said then, “We’re deploying additional navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region.”