The drugs, worth more than £150 million, were on a 70-foot flagged fishing vessel, Lady Michelle, in what is the biggest cocaine bust in the Atlantic since 1999

An international operation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA) has led to the seizure of a 4.2 tonne consignment of cocaine off the coast of South America – the biggest in the Atlantic since 1999.

The drugs, which are worth an estimated £150 million, were on board the St Vincent & Grenadines flagged fishing vessel, Lady Michelle.

It was was targeted by the US Coast Guard and Trinidad & Tobago units in international waters around 115 miles north of Paramaribo in Suriname on 16 February 2017.

Four members of crew, all Guyanese nationals, were arrested.

Lady Michelle which was carrying 4.2 tonnes of cocaine

The Lady Michelle. Credit: NCA

In a media release, the NCA said the interception of the 70-foot vessel was the result of an ongoing law enforcement effort involving the agency’s international network, the US Coast Guard (USCG) and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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Following the interception, the haul was taken to San Juan, Puerto Rico, by a USCG cutter where the cargo, made up of 185 bales weighing a total of 4,240 kilos, was unloaded.

The ongoing investigation into the shipment will now be led by the DEA, with support from the NCA.

The crew of the Lady Michelle will face potential prosecution in the US Virgin Islands.

Commenting on the seizure, the NCA’s head of international operations, Steve Reynolds, said: “The operation to interdict this vessel involved NCA international officers working closely with the DEA and US Coast Guard.”

“We believe that the drugs were headed for West Africa, a well-known staging post for cocaine destined for the European market,” he continued.

Cocaine on the side of the dock after being seized from the Lady Michelle fishing vessel

The cocaine found on the Lady Michelle. Credit: NCA

“Based on UK prices, our estimate is that this shipment would have had a wholesale value to organised crime of more than £150 million, but if cut and sold on the streets of Britain or Europe it could generate two or three times that,” explained Reynolds.

“This seizure will have put a massive dent in the pockets of organised criminals in South America, Africa and Europe,” he added.

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“It will also have caused considerable damage to their cash flow, their credibility with criminal associates around the world, and their mutual trust.”

The US Coast Guard San Juan commander, Captain Robert W. Warren, commented: “The excellent co-ordination between the US Coast Guard and international law enforcement prevented this major drug shipment from reaching communities.”