UK & World News
Drug Smugglers Torch £50m Of Hashish On Ship
Drug smugglers have set fire to a ship carrying more than £50m worth of hashish after they were spotted by customs officials.
Plumes of smoke billowed from the bridge of the Gold Star freighter minutes after it was "buzzed" by a helicopter from the Italian coastguard.
Nine people on board the Tanzanian-registered ship jumped overboard and had to be rescued.
Italian customs officials intercepted the Gold Star as it sailed off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean following a tip-off that it was carrying a huge consignment of drugs.
The vessel had been followed for several days before the operation was launched.
Fast patrol boats were used in the "raid" and a search of the ship's hold revealed 30 tonnes of hashish which had been loaded on board in Turkey.
Officials said the crew were Syrian and Egyptian, but before they could board the 82-metre ship they had to obtain permission from Tanzania where it was registered.
Firefighting boats had to be called in to put out the flames and the ship was being towed to the Sicilian port of Syracuse where the crew members were arrested.
A spokesman for Italian customs said: "The ship was intercepted after intelligence was received that it was carrying drugs - but we never expected such a huge consignment and for the crew to set her on fire.
"The idea was no doubt to try and destroy the evidence so that we could have no case against them, but their plan failed and the fire was put out and the drugs were found during the search.
"Nine people onboard jumped into the sea, but they couldn't get very far as they were several miles from shore and they had to be rescued by Italian customs officers.
"The fire is now under control and the ship is being taken to a port where it will be thoroughly searched again and the nine crew members will be questioned by prosecutors."