NICE, France, April 25 Police in France and the
Netherlands have broken up a smuggling ring that used
torpedo-shaped containers, cargo ships and frogmen for years to
ship cocaine from South America to Europe's largest commercial
One hundred kilos of cocaine were seized, three Frenchmen
arrested and nine others questioned this month after a year-long
investigation, a police source told Reuters.
Narcotics agents got wind of the scheme last June when
bemused port police fished a diver - complete with an underwater
propulsion vehicle - out of pitch-black waters near Fos-sur-Mer,
a major oil port on France's Mediterranean coast, in the middle
of the night.
The man identified only as Marco, 56, was previously known
to police as one suspected author of a 1992 heist in which 22
million euros ($29 mln) were stolen from a branch of the Bank of
After releasing him, Police tracked Marco for a year,
finally trailing him and two associates as they drove from
southern France to the Dutch port of Rotterdam on April 16 in
rented cars loaded with heavy diving equipment.
The men never got to make their dive.
Before they reached the water, police arrested them and
seized their gear, which included two propulsion vehicles and
inflatable parachutes used to bring heavy loads to the surface.
Bolted to the hull of a Dutch-flagged cargo ship that
departed from Venezuela with a stop in the Dutch Caribbean,
police in the Netherlands found a rusting torpedo-shaped metal
tube 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) long, stuffed with cocaine worth up
to 7 million euros on the street.
The scheme had likely been ongoing for years with a
transatlantic trip every six months, the source said.
The three men are due to be transferred back to France. Five
of those questioned have been placed under formal investigation
on suspicion of belonging to the ring. The police source said
the investigation was ongoing.
($1 = 0.7695 euros)
(Reporting by Matthias Galante; Writing by Nick Vinocur;
Editing by Toby Chopra)