Madrid (AFP) - In a major drugs bust, Spanish police said Tuesday they had seized three tonnes of Colombian cocaine and arrested 12 suspected drug smugglers from Spain, Britain and the Netherlands.
The narcotics were seized in the northwestern region of Galicia but were bound for the south, where they were awaited by a gang of British smugglers in the Costa del Sol, police said in a statement.
Police detained seven Britons, three Dutch nationals and two Spaniards in the swoop, which was carried out on December 14 in cooperation with British and US drug enforcement agencies.
The British nationals are suspected of being the buyers of the drugs, the Dutch are believed to be the sellers while the Spaniards were detained for transporting the cocaine.
"It was a very powerful organisation. Few organisations in Europe have the capacity today to transport three tonnes of cocaine," Eloy Quiros, head of Udyco, Spain's national Drug and Organised Crime unit, told a news conference.
The cocaine arrived from South America by boat.
Police seized 700 kilos (1,500 pounds) of the drugs hidden in a false bottom of a van which collided with a police vehicle in the middle of the chase to catch the traffickers.
The rest of the drugs were found disguised in the form of wooden pallets in an industrial warehouse in Pontevedra, in Galicia.
The authorities suspect the cocaine was to have been shipped to the beach resort of Marbella.
There, it would be stored until border checks at Spain's border with France -- boosted after the Paris terrorist attacks in November -- were eased, they believe.
It was the biggest cocaine haul on land in Galicia since 1999, the police statement said. As is usual practice in Spain, the estimated street value of the drugs was not given.
Police also seized 1.2 million euros ($1.3 million) in cash and a handgun.
- 'Costa del Crime' -
Spain's proximity to North Africa, a key source of hashish, and its close ties with former colonies in Latin America, the world's main cocaine-producing region, have made it a gateway into Europe for drug consignments.
Police seized over 22 tonnes of cocaine in Spain in 2015, a 43-percent increase over the previous year, Cosido said.
In November, police announced they had arrested Michael "Dodge" Roden, a suspected drug boss listed among Britain's 10 most wanted fugitives.
That same month, police also detained fellow Briton Robert Dawes, one of Europe's most wanted drug lords.
He was arrested at his luxury villa on the Costa del Sol after an eight-year probe into his alleged links to the Italian mafia and South American cartels.
He has since been extradited to France, where he is wanted in connection with the discovery of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine in a Paris airport in 2013.
The Costa del Sol -- once dubbed the "Costa del Crime" -- has been known as a hideaway for British criminals in the past, especially in the late 1970s and 80s when there were no extradition agreements with Britain.
But the situation changed in 2004 with the introduction of European arrest warrants, making it easier to bring British criminals home to face justice.