storm: The coal ship Bulk Australia, tied up at Hunterston terminal, is believed to be at the centre of a drug-smuggling swoop. Picture: Marc Turner
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) yesterday announced it had found 10 kilos of the drug, worth up to £5 million, on a bulk carrier at Hunterston thought to have come from Columbia.
The discovery came as narcotraffickers increasingly piggyback on major commercial vessels to get their product from South America to Europe and North America.
The Herald understands the drug was found on a 150,000-tonne ship called Bulk Australia on Tuesday.
The 289ft-long Liberian-registered carrier had arrived at the massive terminal in North Ayrshire on Friday.
A spokesman for the UKBA declined to name the ship.
However, there is only one vessel currently in Hunterston, which handles millions of tonnes of shipping every year.
He said: “Inquiries are ongoing and nobody has been arrested or charged.”
Some drug-smuggling gangs have been known to weld boxes full of drugs to the hulls of commercial ships, often without the knowledge of crew.
The UKBA spokesman, however, declined to say where on the ship the drugs had been found.
However, specialist divers are known to have taken part in the search of the vessel, suggesting the hull has been inspected.
The UKBA would not say if its officers were tipped off about the shipment -- or whether the discovery was made as part of routine inspections of ships.
The Hunterston haul is dwarfed by the seizure announced earlier this month of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine, worth some £300m on a yacht in Southampton.
And in November 2008 Irish police found an estimated £500m worth of the drug on another yacht.
That shipment is widely believed to have been organised by figures in Glasgow’s gangland.
Most drugs are thought to enter Scotland through England, although Scottish crime groups have widespread links with overseas organisations and are considered significant players on the world cocaine market.
Scotland officially has the world’s biggest cocaine habit per capita, according to figures published by the United Nations last year.
Murdo MacMillan, assistant director of the UKBA in Scotland, said: “The UK Border Agency is at the forefront of the fight to stop illegal drugs entering the UK.
“We are determined to protect society from this activity which can have such a destructive impact on local communities as well as individuals.
“Anyone with information about suspected smuggling should contact our hotline on 0800 59 5000.”