Italy Arrests 11 Montenegrin Crew Members From Ship Found Carrying Hashish

Briquettes of hashish (file photo)

Italian police said on August 9 that they found 20 tons of hashish worth up to 200 million euros in the fuel tanks of a ship manned by Montenegrins that was stopped in international waters and escorted to Sicily.

The drugs were packed in 650 sacks and hidden in two tanks, police said. The entire 11-person Montenegrin crew of the Panama-flagged ship was arrested on charges of international drug trafficking, police said.

The research and survey vessel Remus left the Canary Islands bound for Egypt and Turkey, but police surveillance showed it had turned off its position transmitter near the coast of North Africa, raising investigators' suspicions.

With the permission of Panamanian authorities, Italian police said they seized the vessel in international waters on July 31 and escorted it to the Sicilian port of Palermo. There, the fuel tanks were drained and the hash was discovered wrapped in sealed brown bags.

"The Mediterranean Sea again is confirmed to be one of the world's largest arteries for illegal trafficking," the police statement said, crediting "attentive intelligence gathering" for identifying and intercepting the hash-carrying ship.

The hashish -- which is compressed cannabis resin -- came from North Africa and probably was destined for the European market, police said.

Morocco is the world's largest producer of hashish, which is usually smuggled into Europe through Spain, according the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters