More than a tonne of heroin with a street value of £120 million was found hidden in sacks of rice in one of the UK’s biggest ever drug hauls.
Some 1,196 kilos of the Class A drug and morphine derivatives were found aboard the Sembawang container ship at the Port of Felixstowe in an international operation led by the National Crime Agency.
NCA investigators received intelligence the vessel was being used by organised criminals to smuggle drugs before it docked in the UK en route to the Belgian port city of Antwerp on September 12.
After removing the drugs, detectives returned the container to the vessel which continued on to Antwerp and docked three days later.
Dutch and Belgian law enforcement agencies kept watch as it was driven by lorry to a warehouse south of the Hague where officers moved in and arrested three people, including the driver and two men involved in the unloading.
A fourth man aged 45 was detained on the M40 by Thames Valley Police assisting the NCA. He has been released on bail.
Nikki Holland, NCA Director of Investigations, said: “This is a huge seizure which has denied organised criminals tens of millions of pounds in profits, and is the result of a targeted, intelligence-led investigation, carried out by the NCA with international and UK partners.
“We know that a lot of these drugs would have ultimately been sold in the UK, through county lines networks.
“There is violent competition between rival organised crime groups at all stages of Class A drug production and supply. The business model also involves the exploitation of vulnerable adults and children both in the UK and overseas.
“Policing colleagues are tackling street level County Lines gangs who dominate and intimidate UK communities, working closely with front line NCA officers who are taking action against the most controlling and most serious and organised criminals causing the most harm across the UK.
“By targeting those at the top of the chain and dismantling the county lines business model, we reduce drug supply to the UK, making it an unviable business.”
Minister for Immigration Compliance and Courts Chris Philp said: “Even though the container ship was destined for the Netherlands, it is highly likely its illicit cargo could have ended up on UK streets as well as mainland Europe.
“Class A drugs like heroin and diamorphine wreak havoc on individuals and communities, and there is no place for them in any civilised society.
“Working with our law enforcement partners at home and abroad, we are determined to do all we can to disrupt organised criminal networks and bring those responsible for this despicable trade to justice.”