Freighter crew busted carrying massive cocaine haul

Police stand guard next to seized drug packs at the port of Vigo, northwestern Spain, after a boat carrying tons of cocaine was seized, in this June 13, 2013 file photo.

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MADRID -- Spanish authorities cooperated with Ecuadorean police to intercept a ship off that Latin American country bringing more than six tons of cocaine to Spain, officials said Monday.

In a separate drug seizure announced Monday, Spanish police said they stopped a ship carrying 2.8 tons of cocaine in a joint operation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Britain's National Crime Agency, and police in neighboring Portugal.

Ecuadorean agents boarded a freighter when it was almost three nautical miles off the coast of Ecuador's Santa Elena province, Spain's Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The ship was loaded with Colombian cocaine in the Pacific and planned to travel through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic to Europe, the statement said.

The shipment was believed to be organized by a drug-trafficking ring in northeastern Galicia.

Ecuadorean police found 176 bags of cocaine concealed in the cargo and arrested the 20 men on the ship. One of them was a Spaniard allegedly belonging to the Galician ring. Four others were arrested in Spain. The statement did not give a date for the operation.

Meanwhile, a Venezuela-flagged ship was intercepted by Spanish special operations police and customs agents at sea on May 4, according to a police statement, and was towed to Las Palmas in Spain's Canary Islands. The seven crew members were arrested.

The police operation began after Spain found out in January that a South American ring with links in Spain was organizing a large shipment. That information was corroborated by intelligence also gathered by the U.S., Britain and Portugal, the statement said.

Large seizures of cocaine and cannabis aren't uncommon in Iberia, which is seen as a drug gateway to Europe.

Spanish police captured almost nine tons of cocaine from four vessels in 2015 and 2016 and arrested 80 people, the police statement said.