Spanish police seized nearly three tonnes of cocaine from a yacht near the Canary Islands and arrested six suspects believed to be involved in a Balkan-based trafficking gang, Europol said Friday.

Heavily armed officers swooped on a sailing boat eight days ago, while various police agencies arrested suspects at various locations in the Serbian-led operation.

Belgrade police in January last year kicked off a probe into the cartel, which was suspected of large-scale cocaine smuggling across the Atlantic Ocean. 

”The targeted organisation was… suspected of organising multi-tonne cocaine shipments from Brazil to the EU,” the Hague-based Europol said in a statement. 

Spanish police in inflatables accompanied by a warship intercepted the sailing yacht west of Gran Canaria carrying some 2.7 tonnes of cocaine hidden in sports bags, while the suspects were arrested at various locations, Europol said. 

”Investigators identified a Serbian national as one of the main organisers in the criminal network,” and he and others were identified as high-value targets, it added.

Police also seized two expensive vehicles, luxury watches and more than 550,000 euros in cash.

”These main coordinators of the drug cartel arranged the shipping operations via encrypted communications platforms,” said Europol.

Law enforcement used dismantled encrypted communications tools like EncroChat, Sky EEC and Anom to get ”unprecedented” insight into the cartel’s workings.

”One trend uncovered was the important role that criminal networks, largely composed of nationals from countries in the Balkans region, play in the global cocaine trade,” Europol said. 

News of the drug haul comes after Spanish police and customs last Friday announced the seizure of nearly 9.5 tonnes of cocaine from Ecuador, described as the country’s largest ever.

Spain’s proximity to North Africa, a key source of hashish, and its close ties with former colonies in Latin America, the world’s main cocaine-producing region, have made it a portal for drug smuggling into Europe.

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