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'Narcosubmarine' a first for Europe, say Spanish officials

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MADRID (Reuters) – The discovery of a submarine carrying 3,000 kg (3.3 tons) of cocaine off the coast of Spain marks a “historic” turning point in the battle against drug trafficking, Spanish authorities said on Wednesday.

Police described it as the first “narcosubmarine” to be intercepted in Europe, adding in a statement that it had been found in waters off the northwestern region of Galicia on Saturday, stuffed with 152 neatly-wrapped bales of cocaine.

The estimated street value of the drugs is 100 million euros ($110.22 million), Javier Losada, head of the central government delegation in Galicia, told reporters on Wednesday.

“This is a historic operation, one that will mark a before and after for security forces as they now contend with this new possibility,” Losada said.

Video released by Spanish police on Wednesday showed divers entering the rusty vessel through a small top hatch before they refloated it using air bags.

Spanish officials said they were initially tipped off about the vessel by an inter-governmental working group on drug smuggling, setting off a search that tracked down the submarine on Saturday night.

Rough waters had complicated efforts to transfer the drugs to another boat, leading the suspects to sink the submarine before abandoning it. As they did so, they were spotted by patrolling officers, police said.

Police arrested an Ecuadorian national on the scene who was wearing a wetsuit. On Sunday morning a second Ecuadorian was arrested while a third suspect remains on the run.

Police, noting that the use of submarines to transport drugs in the Americas is quite common, described the submarine as “homemade” and capable of transporting between three and five tons of cocaine.

It was later transported to a port in Cangas, in Pontevedra province, where the cocaine-filled packages were removed from the interior, police added.

The investigation continues, as police work to determine the origin of the drugs and who they were destined for.

Spanish police said the operation also relied on help from police forces from Brazil, Portugal and the United States.

(Reporting by Nathan Allan and Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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