Court told of navy’s search for suspected drug smuggling ship

National Crime Agency handout photo dated 23/04/15 of the ocean-going tug MV Hamal, left, as it was intercepted by the frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant, right, about 100 miles east of the Aberdeenshire. Picture: PA

National Crime Agency handout photo dated 23/04/15 of the ocean-going tug MV Hamal, left, as it was intercepted by the frigate HMS Somerset and Border Force cutter Valiant, right, about 100 miles east of the Aberdeenshire. Picture: PA

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A Royal Navy warship searched waters off the north of Scotland for a ship whose crew is accused of carrying out an international drug smuggling operation, a court has heard.

The nine-strong crew of the tug MV Hamal are on trial accused of smuggling cocaine from Istanbul via Tenerife to South America, and then to the North Sea between February and April 2015.

They are further alleged to have been concerned in the supply of the class A drug.

Giving evidence at the High Court in Glasgow yesterday, UK Border Force officer Chris Pratt said the operation to board the Tanzanian-registered ship was “dangerous work” due to the remote location in the North Sea 100 miles east of Aberdeen and the possibility of an “opposed” boarding.

The 59-year-old, who works at the National Maritime Information Centre in Portsmouth, Hampshire, said he was asked at a briefing there on 22 April, 2015 to arrange for ships and aircraft to trace the Hamal in the waters around the UK as it was thought to be carrying narcotics.

He said the National Crime Agency gave him a location for the ship the previous day out in the Atlantic off Ireland and the Navy destroyer HMS Somerset had been diverted from operations near Iceland and the UK Border Force cutter Valiant was heading north from the English Channel.

Mr Pratt calculated four possible routes the Hamal could use to head into the North Sea and a plane sent to check found the ship at the east end of the Pentland Firth shortly before 5pm on 22 April.

He said the Hamal was boarded successfully and taken to Aberdeen Harbour, where he arranged for a specialised team to search it.

He later plotted data from the ship showing a route from Turkey to Tenerife, then Guyana, back to Tenerife, past the west coast of Ireland, then through the Pentland Firth to the North Sea.

Under cross-examination by Donald Findlay QC, representing the ship’s Master Mumin Sahin, 46, Mr Pratt denied that he knew “exactly where” Hamal was or that he was tracking the ship.

The crew – Kayacan Dalgakiran, 64, Mustafa Guven, 48, Mustafa Ceviz, 55, Umit Colakel, 39, Ibrahim Dag, 48, Emin Ozmen, 51, Abdulkadir Cirik, 32, Mahammet Seckin, 27 – and Sahin deny the charges against them.

The trial continues.

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