Watch $400 Million in Smuggled Hash Burn on Ship

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 9 2013 5:32 PM

Watch as $400 Million in Smuggled Hash Burns Aboard Ship in Mediterranean

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The head of the operations, Italian lieutenant colonel Davide Cardia of the Guardia di Finanzia, stands next officers in the operation room in Rome.

Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

Smugglers shipping some 30 tons of hashish across the Mediterranean had a tough choice to make as Italian police closed in–what to do with the contraband?

They decided to set fire to the drugs creating a thick plume of smoke and then the nine Syrian and Egyptian crew members abandoned ship, leaping into the water off the coast of Sicily, according to the Telegraph. The crew was arrested at sea by the Italian tax police while the unmanned ship continued to drift with its burning cargo for four hours before police were able to board it and try to put out the flames.

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"Setting fire to the cargo and then jumping in to the water, far from the coast, is something we've not seen in 30 years," a police spokesman told the Telegraph. "The officers who boarded the ship needed to wear gas masks to avoid being overcome by smoke," he added. "And now they will need to stay away from our sniffer dogs until they have had a good shower."

The 30-ton cargo had an estimated street value of almost $400 million, according to the Times of Malta.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.