Civil Guard discovers 127 kilos of cocaine on Spanish navy training ship

Three sailors in custody on suspicion of smuggling drugs and trying to offload them in New York

The navy training ship ‘Juan Sebastián Elcano,’ in a photo from 2007.
The navy training ship ‘Juan Sebastián Elcano,’ in a photo from 2007.efe

A Spanish navy training ship has involuntarily become a tool for drug traffickers. The Civil Guard has seized 127 kilos of cocaine from the Juan Sebastián Elcano, a vessel that serves as a floating symbol of the Spain brand all over the world. The haul of drugs was located in the storeroom where the sails are kept during a search carried out in Cádiz, after the ship had completed a six-month cruise that covered 18,000 nautical miles.

In July, while the boat was moored off of Pontevedra, in northwest Spain, the military police detained three sailors on orders from a military court. The three men – two Spaniards and an Ecuadorian – were accused of having sold as much as 20 kilos of cocaine to drug traffickers in New York, when the boat made a visit there between May 10 and 15. In mid-April, the Juan Sebastián Elcano made a visit to Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), where the drugs were thought to have been loaded.

In April, the Juan Sebastián Elcano made a visit to Colombia, where the drugs may have been loaded

The tip-off was passed to the Spanish authorities by the US department of Homeland Security Investigations (HIS), after the New York authorities detained the dealers the Spanish sailors had contacted. The arrested men later supplied the identities of the sailors to the police.

When the sailors were arrested, the authorities were unable to locate the drugs. Only when the vessel arrived in Cádiz could a thorough search be carried out. The storeroom where the cocaine was eventually located was only accessible to a few of the crew members – but the two Spaniards detained were among them.

Civil Guard sources say that the investigation is still open and they are not ruling out “new developments.” They are trying to find out whether this is the first time that the suspects had smuggled drugs – which seems unlikely, given the quantity seized – and whether they had accomplices on or off the boat. It is known that for each kilo of cocaine they transported, the sailors were paid $5,000 (around €3,800).

A number of guests boarded the ship while the drugs were on board, including senior Defense Ministry staff

The vessel has a crew of 23 officers, 22 NCOs and 139 sailors. On its recent journey from Galicia to Cádiz, a number of guests boarded the Juan Sebastián Elcano, including senior staff from the Defense Ministry. Unbeknown to them, the vessel was carrying the haul of cocaine.

This recent discovery is not the first time that drugs have been located on a Spanish navy boat: two corporals were sentenced to five years in prison in 2013, after they were found to be transporting a shipment of hashish from Ceuta to Cádiz in a patrol ship.