Over 1 tonne of drugs found in container onboard Maersk Sembawang

More than a tonne of drugs – 1,196 kilogrammes of heroin and morphine derivatives – were recovered from containership Maersk Sembawang after it docked at the UK’s Port of Felixstowe earlier this month.


The international operation in which the massive haul of potentially deadly Class A drugs was stopped from hitting UK streets was led by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).

The 6,478 TEU Singapore-flagged ship, owned by Danish shipping major Maersk, arrived in Felixtowe on 12 September from Rotterdam, VesselsValue’s data shows.

As informed, NCA investigators developed intelligence and knew the drugs would be on the vessel when it docked in the UK en route to Antwerp.

The haul would be worth around £21 million ($26.8 million) to organised criminals at wholesale, and in excess of £120 million at street level.

After it docked on 12 September, the container was searched by NCA officers with support from Border Force. The drugs were hidden in bags of rice.

Image by NCA

The seizure is one of the largest ever of heroin in the UK, according to NCA. Last year, as part of other NCA operations, nearly 1.3 tonnes and 398kg of heroin were seized in loads arriving at Felixstowe.

After officers removed the drugs during the early hours of Sunday morning, they returned the container to the vessel, which continued on to Antwerp and docked in the Belgian port city on 15 September.

Under surveillance by Dutch and Belgian law enforcement agencies, the container was driven by lorry to a warehouse south of the Hague, the Netherlands.

Upon arrival, officers moved in and arrested three people – the driver and two men involved in the unloading.

“This is a huge seizure which has denied organised criminals tens of millions of pounds in profits, and is the result of a targeted, intelligence-led investigation, carried out by the NCA with international and UK partners,” Nikki Holland, NCA Director of Investigations, said.

“We know that a lot of these drugs would have ultimately been sold in the UK, through County Lines networks.”

“Even though the container ship was destined for the Netherlands, it is highly likely its illicit cargo could have ended up on UK streets as well as mainland Europe,” Chris Philp, Minister for Immigration Compliance and Courts, said.

“Working with our law enforcement partners at home and abroad, we are determined to do all we can to disrupt organised criminal networks and bring those responsible for this despicable trade to justice.”