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France Holds Drug Ship Crew After High Seas Raid

Sat Jun 29, 1:40 PM ET Yahoo! News

RENNES, France (Reuters) - France is holding 11 crewmen of a suspected cocaine smuggling ship seized by the French navy in a dramatic high seas raid, judicial sources said on Saturday.

The "Winner," a Cambodian-flagged freighter, was captured in the Atlantic two weeks ago while carrying up to two tons of cocaine to Europe.

The crew dumped crates of cocaine in the sea and tried to ram a French naval vessel when it fired a warning shot to force them to stop, French investigators said.

A Spanish crew member was injured in the clash and evacuated to hospital in Senegal. The ship was towed to the French port of Brest, where it arrived on Friday.

French navy divers recovered between 80 and 90 kilos of cocaine from the seabed. Brest prosecutor Francois Nicot said the haul was evidence of an "organized maritime route for trafficking drugs between South America and Europe."

The 11 crew members -- two Greeks, four Romanians, two Chileans and three Ukrainians -- have been placed under investigation for international drug-trafficking, one step short of formal charges.

French authorities are expected to press Senegal for the extradition of the wounded man. The Winner started its journey in Romania and sailed to Trinidad and Tobago and on to Cuba, where its 2,800-ton cargo of steel was loaded, investigators said.

The crew is believed to have picked up between 1.5 and two tons of cocaine from an unnamed ship after leaving Cuba and was expected to transfer it to another vessel before delivering the steel to Bilbao in Spain.

Greek police last week arrested the two owners of the Winner and said they were the "brains of the smuggling ring."

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France Holds Drug Ship Crew After High Seas Raid
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