Biggest-ever batch of cocaine, 19 tons, arrested in Panama

Panamanian police seized a boat off the nation's Pacific coast carrying 19.4 metric tons of cocaine in one of the biggest maritime cocaine busts anywhere on record, officials said Monday.

National police working with agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized the boat on Sunday near the island of Coiba, said a police official who asked his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Police arrested 12 men on the boat, including Mexicans and Panamanians, and another two suspects in Panama City in connection with the drugs, the official said.

The boat, which was sailing under a Panamanian flag, was being transported to Panama City on Monday, he said.

Drug cartels often smuggle Colombian cocaine along Panama's Pacific coast en route to the United States.

In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy seized 28 tons of cocaine from two fishing boats off the coast of the Galapagos Islands in what U.S. State Department officials then called their largest seizures ever during a one-week stretch.

In 2005, police in southwest Colombia seized 15 tons of cocaine from a jungle stronghold, in what national authorities called the largest haul ever on their soil.

Ecuadorean authorities said Monday they had fished 200 kilograms (440 pounds) from the Pacific after the crew of a boat carrying the cargo set the vessel ablaze after being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Milton Lalama, director general of Ecuador's Merchant Marines, said crew members burned the boat "to make the evidence disappear" after it was intercepted last month. It was unclear how much cocaine was on the boat before it was burned, reports AP.

The boat's crew of six Colombians and eight Ecuadoreans were transferred Monday to the Ecuadorean port city of Guayaquil, where the Colombians are in U.S. custody, Ecuador's counter-drug prosecutor said in Guayaquil.

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