Spanish National Police and Customs inspectors arrested three UK citizens after a tonne of cocaine worth more than $111 million was discovered aboard a yacht heading from the Caribbean to Europe in the mid-Atlantic, the law enforcement agency stated.
The special operation took place on June 13, according to the Spanish police.
"National Police officers and Customs Surveillance Service officials in a joint operation with Tax Agency officials boarded a yacht called SY Windwhisper with nearly 1,000 kilos of cocaine from the Caribbean and arrested the three crew members," the statement's translation reads.
According to the press release, this operation was the last phase of an investigation that began a year ago in collaboration with the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) and that had already resulted in the apprehension of two vessels, the seizure of 1,600 kilos of hashish and the arrest of ten members of the criminal organization.
"At the same time four people were arrested in the provinces of Malaga and Cadiz," the police added. "They were linked to the same criminal drugs trafficking organisation which investigators consider has now been dismantled."
🚩Intervenido un velero -procedente del Caribe- cargado con 1.000 kilos de #cocaína, y detenidos los 3 miembros de su tripulación— Policía Nacional (@policia) June 23, 2021
Simultáneamente, los👮♀️👮♂️arrestaron a otros 4 miembros del entramado en las provincias de #Cádiz y #Málaga
Operación conjunta con #AgenciaTributaria pic.twitter.com/pko7IEtEXx
It also added that the head of the organized crime group had several companies dedicated to the sale and rental of boats, with which "he fraudulently orchestrated the acquisition of the means of transport for drugs".
The head of the criminal group was reportedly identified as 64-year-old Robert Mark Benson by the Daily Mail, as he was one of ten people arrested in operations last month in the provinces of Malaga and Cadiz, as well as Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta.
"Known to law enforcement agencies for his links to organised crime groups in the UK and Ukraine, officers believe he trained the crew and ran several companies engaged in buying, selling and renting sailing vessels that were subsequently used to conduct drugs transportations," the statement by the NCA reads.
Two of the four suspects detained as a result of the Atlantic Ocean bust are thought to be British. None of the British nationals apprehended in the recent operation have been identified to the public.
"This is a huge haul of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than £80million. I have no doubt the drugs on board were destined for the streets of the UK, so this seizure is a significant result," the Head of European Operations for NCA International, Dave Hucker, is quoted in the agency's statement as saying. "We know that the criminal trade in drugs is driven by financial gain, and the loss of the profit that would have been made from these drugs will have a major impact on the crime groups involved."
According to the Daily Mail, Benson served in the Royal Navy as an executive branch officer from 1978 until 1985. Before arriving in southern Spain, he began a new career in real estate in Gibraltar. He founded Yacht Matters, a company that buys and sells boats, and Real Estate Matters, a real estate agency, both in Marbella, in 2015.
According to the NCA, over the last year, the agency "has been involved in the seizure, forfeiting or restraining more than £112m and 145 tonnes of drugs globally."