Norwegian authorities mounted an unusual operation this month that resulted in the largest cocaine seizure ever in Western Norway, and the arrests of six people. The operation involved customs agents, the Coast Guard and police, all acting on suspicions that narcotics were attached to the hull of a ship sailing towards a small port not far from Haugesund.
The ship, a bulker carrying raw materials for aluminum production, had sailed from the small port of Vila do Conde in Brazil to the also small port of Husnes on Norway’s west coast, where large Norwegian industrial Norsk Hydro has a plant.
Norwegian authorities have suspected for years that many of Norway’s small industrial ports could be used as destinations for drug smugglers. Places like Husnes, Høyanger, Årdalstangen and Sunndalsøra regularly receive bulkers from abroad, as many as 70 to 80 a year from South America, according to state broadcaster NRK.
Smugglers have long strapped narcotics to the hulls of vessels for transport around the world. Last week’s bust in Husnes marked the first such seizure in Norway, “and gives us inspiration to keep working with these kinds of control measures,” Bård Ynnesdal of the customs authority Tolletaten told NRK.
Hydro officials declined comment on the case, or on how vessels chartered for legal shipments can also be used for drug smuggling. There’s usually no connection between the vessels, their charterers and the drug smugglers, who can attach and detach large packages of drugs to ships’ hulls under the waterline without the crew being aware of their presence.
Customs officials in Norway have been aided since 2019 by use of an underwater robot to inspect ships’ hulls. Divers could then be filmed in the middle of the night, removing the packages of cocaine fastened to the hull of the ship Nordloire docked at Husnes. The cocaine was then transferred to a vehicle that was seized in the early morning hours of April 13 along with six people in an armed police operation.
The five men and one woman, all Albanian citizens, were ordered jailed for at least four weeks while police continue their investigation into why they came to Husnes (a small community with just 2,000 residents), what they did in advance of their arrests, what plans they had and to what extent they’re involved in the drug smuggling.
NRK reported that none of them were connected to the vessel itself, and local newspaper BT reported that most have denied the charges against them. “We aren’t ruling out more arrests,” said prosecutor Jørgen Henriksen of the Vest Police District.
The seizure was the latest in a string that has resulted in nearly 2,000 kilos of cocaine being taken off the market. NRK reported that police don’t think, however, that there’s any connection between the cocaine seized in Husnes and that recently found in banana boxes at a fruit and produce warehouse in Oslo.
Ynnesdal of the customs agency called the seizure at Husnes a result of “an alert customs agent” whose suspicions were raised by another undisclosed customs inspection elsewhere in the country, details of which were not revealed. That led to the identification of “locations and objects of high interest in Vestland County” and then “close and good cooperation with the police and Coast Guard,” climaxing in the “action against the vehicle” and the discovery of the 100 kilos of cocaine in its trunk.