French navy seizes major cocaine haul off African coast

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French navy vessel seized three tonnes of cocaine from a Panamanian-registered boat off the west African coast

  PARIS, Feb 9, 2008 - A French navy vessel seized three tonnes of
cocaine from a Panamanian-registered boat off the west African coast,
officials involved in the operation said Thursday.
   It is the second largest drugs haul ever seized by the French.
   French sailors intervened as part of an international operation involving
the Greek coastguard, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the British
authorities and the European police agency Europol.
   The French boarded the Junior in international waters, 260 kilometres (160
miles) west of the port of Conakry in Guinea, as some members of the crew were
getting ready to dump the container containing the drugs overboard.
   It was their second such success in the region this year. On January 29,
the French navy intercepted a Liberian fishing boat, the Blue Atlantic, 500
kilometres off the Liberian coast, and seized 2.5 tonnes of cocaine.
   Thursday's haul came after a tip off from the Greek coastguard and
following DEA surveillance of the Junior over several months.
   The Greek coastguard said they thought the boat, which had loaded its cargo
in Greece, had originally come from Brazil and was bound for Algeria. It was
carrying 107 cases, each containing 30 kilos (0.03 tonnes) of cocaine.
   The crew consisted of a Greek captain and his second-in-command and seven
crew members of African origin, they said.
   The Greek merchant marine ministry said one of the crew members had been
previously arrested as a crew member on the tanker Archangel, seized by the
Spanish authorities in 1995 with 2.7 tonnes of cocaine.
   French investigators are waiting to hear from Panama to see if it will
waive its legal interest in the boat registered under its flag.
   If Panama does waive its rights, the French will be able to take the vessel
to a French port and continue their investigation. If it does not, then the
vessel will have to be taken back to Greece where it was loaded.
   The largest cocaine seizure by the French authorities was 4.3 tonnes on
November 16, 2006, off the coast of Antilles in the French Caribbean, in a
Panamanian cargo ship bound for Spain.


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