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Two Smugglers Light Their Own Sailboat on Fire as Authorities Approach

Burning sailboat with French customs vessel
Courtesy National Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigations (DNRED)

Published May 27, 2024 9:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last week, French maritime authorities interdicted, busted and rescued two smugglers aboard a yacht filled with cocaine, which the suspects attempted to light on fire as law enforcement approached. 

Overnight Wednesday, France's customs agency led an operation to intercept the sailboat Le Dahu, which was under way in the Bay of Biscay. The Polish-flagged vessel was just 15 miles off the port of Brest, according to local outlet Le Telegramme. 

France's customs directorate first identified the sailboat as a target when it was in the Caribbean, before its transatlantic crossing. The customs authorities worked with the Maritime Prefecture of the Atlantic, France's anti-narcotics office, the Brest public prosecutor and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to track the vessel on its voyage. It also secured authorization from Poland - the sailboat's flag state - to conduct a high-seas boarding. 

On the evening of May 23, a French customs aircraft conducted an overflight to confirm the sailboat's position. The crew of the customs vessel Kermorvan intercepted the boat, but as they approached, the two crewmembers aboard Le Dahu lit their own vessel on fire and attempted to sink it. They were rescued by the crew of Kermorvan and detained, and the cargo - 19 bales of cocaine - was seized. 

According to Le Telegramme, one of the two suspects was injured in the fire and was taken to a hospital for further treatment. 

In all, customs agents seized 406 kilos of cocaine from Le Dahu, an amount worth roughly $12 million on the wholesale market. Prosecutors in Brest have handed off the case to a special prosecutor's office in Rennes, which will carry out the rest of the investigation.