NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Authorities boarding North Sea tug was 'dangerous', drug trial told

A Royal Navy warship hunted in 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.

Nine men are accused of sailing in the Hamal from Istanbul to the North Sea while concealing cocaine in 2015.

They are on trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

The UK Border Force's Chris Pratt said it was a dangerous boarding due to remoteness and possibly being opposed.

Mr Pratt, who works at the National Maritime Information Centre in Portsmouth, Hampshire, said he was asked at a briefing to arrange for ships and aircraft to trace the Hamal in the waters around the UK as it was thought to be carrying narcotics.

'Thunder in'

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.

He said: "I didn't want anyone to thunder in at high speed. I wanted a clean approach, controlled, and I wanted a positive ID before the vessel was boarded."

Plotted data

He said the Hamal was boarded successfully and taken to Aberdeen Harbour, where he arranged for a specialised deep rummage 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 trial before Lord Kinclaven continues.

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