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U.K. police find $568 million of cocaine hidden in bananas, shattering drug-seizure record

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British authorities on Friday said they had found more than 12,500 pounds of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas, shattering the record for the biggest single seizure of hard drugs in the country.

The National Crime Agency said 5.7 tons of cocaine were found in a container of bananas at the port of Southampton on England's south coast on Feb. 8. The haul of drugs had an estimated street value of $568 million, the agency said.

Before the massive bust, the previous largest seizures of drugs in the U.K. was a 3.7-ton haul of cocaine found in Southampton two years ago, and before that, 3.2 tons discovered on a tug boat in Scotland in 2015, the agency said.

The packages of cocaine found this month were concealed in a cargo of bananas which had been transported from South America, and officials believe the drugs were headed to Hamburg, Germany, "for onward delivery." 

The National Crime Agency said that 5.7 tons of cocaine were found in a container of bananas at the port of Southampton on Feb. 8, 2024. National Crime Agency

"This record-breaking seizure will represent a huge hit to the international organized crime cartels involved, denying them massive profits," NCA Director Chris Farrimond said in a statement. "While the destination for the consignment was continental Europe in this case, I have no doubt that a significant proportion would have ended up back here in the U.K., being peddled by U.K. criminal gangs."

The NCA estimates that criminal gangs make more than $5 billion a year from Britain's cocaine market, which "has seen an exponential rise in associated violence in the past few years."

Authorities said they were working with international partners to identify the criminal networks involved with the record-breaking seizure.

Drugs have been discovered concealed in banana shipments throughout Europe. Last August, customs agents in the Netherlands seized 17,600 pounds of cocaine found hidden inside crates of bananas in Rotterdam's port. Three months before that, a police dog sniffed out 3 tons of cocaine stashed in a case of bananas in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro.

Record amounts of cocaine have been seized in Europe in recent years, with ports in the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium accounting for more than 70% of the seizures, according to statistics analyzed by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Colombia produces about 60% of the cocaine found in the world.

The announcement of the record-breaking seizure in England came just a day after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said officers had seized 6.5 tons of methamphetamine in a Texas border town, the largest single seizure ever made at a U.S. port.

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