Italian authorities have seized 5.3 tonnes of cocaine as it was being transferred between ships off the coast of Sicily, Reuters reported on Thursday.
The Guardia di Finanza arrested five people in relation to the drug haul worth an estimated 850 million euros ($946 million), after tracking a ship from South America.
Packages thrown off the deck were collected by a fishing vessel nearby, according to surveillance aircraft footage.
The ship was sailing under the flag of the pacific island of Palau, and was to head for Turkey after offloading its haul, police officials told BBC Turkish. The drugs were intended for the domestic market in Italy, they said. Crew on the ship held Turkish, Azerbaijani and Ukrainian citizenships, while the small fishing boat was manned by Italian, French and Albanian nationals.
Colonel Gianluca Angelini said the ship, named Plutus, could have set sail from Trinidad or Venezuela.
In 2021, in a now infamous series of tell-all videos, Turkish mafia boss Sedat Peker accused ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) heavyweight and former prime minister Binali Yıldırım of involvement with drug trafficking from Venezuela. According to Peker, Yıldırım’s son Erkam had travelled to the Caribbean coast to set up a new route for the cocaine after neighbouring Colombia and Panama ramped up operations and seized more than 5.6 tonnes of the illicit substance headed for Turkey.
Major drug busts in recent months include 2.3 tonnes of cocaine earmarked for Turkey seized in Peru in March, a 290 kg shipment of cocaine in a ship sailing from Brazil to Turkey in January, and an 850 kg shipment of cocaine in Ecuador, headed for the Turkish port of Mersin in June last year.