BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) — A stash of cocaine and heroin was found aboard the Colombian Navy’s main training ship shortly before it was to sail for the United States, the Navy said on Friday, in a fresh embarrassment for the nation’s scandal-plagued security forces.
The government said it had suspended the boat’s 75 crew members after officials found 16.5 kilograms (36 pounds) of heroin and 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cocaine hidden in the engine room of the historic sailing ship the Gloria.
“The government would rather see the ship rot than let this type of crime continue rotting our national dignity,” the government said in a news release, adding that the crew would remain suspended until those responsible were found.
The Gloria, which takes trainees on round-the-world trips designed to improve Colombia’s image, was due to sail for the United States and Europe next month.
The drugs found would have been worth several million dollars on U.S. or European streets.
Navy commander Admiral Mauricio Soto said three crew members were under investigation over the find, which is an embarrassment for a country which receives hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid a year to fight illegal drugs and a rebel insurgency.
The discovery follows a string of scandals for the security forces. Over the past month or so, army patrols have killed at least six fellow soldiers, seven policemen and nine civilians by mistake, prompting a public apology from President Alvaro Uribe.
Last year, the head of the national police force resigned after accusations that officers had taken more than $1 million in bribes to allow a cocaine shipment.
The Colombian Navy has, however, scored major victories against drug traffickers, confiscating 70 tonnes of cocaine in 2003.
Drugs were also found hidden on the Gloria in 1975.