Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
Crucial US intelligence provided to local law enforcement authorities assisted them in interrupting a major drug pipeline to Europe on Tuesday, after the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard intercepted a multi-million dollar cocaine shipment off Trinidad’s north coast.
A joint team of officers from the Defence Force, with Commander Jason Kelshall leading the Special Naval Unit( SPN), discovered over 400 kilogrammes of 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.
As the transnational investigation widened yesterday, senior intelligence sources told Guardian Media that US personnel spent a considerable amount of time at Staubles Bay in Chaguaramas, where the impounded vessel remained along with its crew of about 19, including 17 Indian nationals ranging from ages 19-30 years and two Turkish nationals.
At least ten of the men were being kept on the ship while the other nine were being detained elsewhere on the Coast Guard base. Many of the Indian nationals told authorities they had recently married and started just started to work on the tanker.
Intelligence sources said one of the Turkish nationals was picked up along with the drugs approximately four to five days ago in Venezuela.
“We believe that the Turkish man was the mastermind behind this shipment and understand the ship was destined to Turkey and it stopped off in Venezuela to pick up the drugs and him, “ the source explained.
The huge tanker ship had no cargo on board, another source said.
“What we understand is that they expected to drain the other fuel tanks to see if there is any further contraband there and continue to search the ship for another two days for anything else illegal.”
The source said critical intelligence provided to local authorities by US personnel help the local law enforcement intercept the tanker before it got out of T&T’s territorial waters.
Although the Marine Traffic: Global Shipping Tracking Intelligence website indicated that the ship’s final destination was expected to be Belem in Brazil, sources said that was not the case in this instance. The source said the ship had traversed Caribbean waters in the last two months and had been to Jamaica in one instance. The tanker, according to the site, left Guayaquil, Ecuador and passed through the Panama Canal several weeks ago.
A US intelligence source familiar with the investigation said he could not comment on the matter.
Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump signalled his intention to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics 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.”
In April last year, Customs and T&T Coast Guard officials recovered close to $120 million worth of cocaine hidden aboard the tanker Hispania Spirit after it docked at the Atlantic Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) port in Point Fortin. Some seven bales of cocaine were found attached to the rudder of that ship.