Big cocaine busts off African coast for French Navy

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The French Navy has seized over ten tons of cocaine in two operations off the west coast of Africa, in line with an increase in drug-related activity.

The French Navy on 20 March said a massive cocaine seizure totalling 10 693 kg of the drug occurred on 14 March from a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Anti-Narcotics office (OFAST) and the National Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigations (DNRED) requested the intervention of the French Navy in light of information transmitted by their partners from the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) (MAOC N) and the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), based on an investigation carried out with the Brazilian federal police.

French Navy assets intervened in the early morning of 14 March and intercepted a fishing boat around twenty metres in length, flying the Brazilian flag.

In total, 10 693 kg of cocaine, with an estimated market value of nearly 695 million euros, were seized on board the fishing boat, then moved to the French Navy vessel for destruction.

“Perfect cooperation between national and international actors in the fight against drugs made it possible to obtain this exceptional result. It illustrates the effectiveness of the action of the French State at sea in the context of the protection of external borders and the fight against organized crime,” the French Navy said.

The French vessel involved in the seizure was not named but is believed to be the Commandant Bouan. The French Navy deploys one or two French vessels almost permanently supported by a maritime patrol aircraft in the Gulf of Guinea as part of Operation Corymbe.

Earlier in the month, the Joan of Arc group seized nearly 900 kg of cocaine from a sailboat off the coast of Africa.

On 3 March, a Dauphin helicopter from the Joan of Arc group, comprising a landing helicopter dock and La Fayette class frigate, helped detect and locate the suspect boat, the French Navy said. Its position was, the following morning, confirmed by the flight of a Falcon 50 positioned in Dakar, which identified the boat. The boarding team from the landing helicopter dock then intercepted the 15 metre long sailboat.

In total, 894 kg of cocaine, with a market value in France estimated at nearly 60 million euros, were seized and transferred onto the landing helicopter dock for destruction.

The French Navy said the Joan of Arc group asserts France’s sovereignty in its overseas territories. It responds to scenarios ranging from the protection of populations in the face of political crises and climate change as well as the fight against illicit trafficking at sea. The amphibious group and its onboard helicopters finally constitute a short-notice reaction capability, allowing, if necessary, to contribute to the protection of French and European interests.

Drug trafficking is on the rise, with the French Navy recording an increase in seizures at sea. In 2023, it intercepted more than 33 tons of drugs between the Antilles, West Africa and the Indian Ocean. This marks an increase of 13% compared to the previous year and, above all, a very sharp increase in the quantities of cocaine seized.

Over the year 2023, according to figures provided by the French Navy, the French fleet intercepted and destroyed 33.2 tonnes of drugs, representing a market value of 775 million euros. These narcotics were seized during 13 operations.

A significant amount of drugs headed to Europe come from South America to Brazil, where they are shipped onwards to West Africa and then Europe. Brazil’s largest criminal organization, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), has been using the port of Santos to traffic narcotics to Europe through West Africa for a long time, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. The PCC is said to be the most powerful player in Brazil’s domestic cocaine market, with an estimated 40 000 members and hundreds of thousands of allies.