Three drug traffickers have been jailed for a combined 21 years after an NCA surveillance operation foiled their attempt to extract 10 kilos of cocaine from a shipping container.

Salih Saruhan, 32, from Sheerness, Sean Bourke, 35, also from Sheerness, and Irnti Rapai, 29, from Bromley pleaded guilty to fraudulent evasion of a prohibition by bringing into or taking out of the UK a controlled drug an earlier court hearing.  

On the evening of 11 February 2023, NCA officers were monitoring the group’s activities as part of an operation tackling drug importation and supply.

At just before 6pm, officers watched the three men exit a Sheerness barber shop carrying extendable ladders.

They were tracked walking along the seafront to the town’s port, before Rapai broke off and took up his position as lookout near the shore.

Meanwhile Suruham and Bourke scaled the port’s fencing using the ladders and made their way to number of refrigerated shipping containers that had arrived from Costa Rica earlier that day. 

Sheerness ladder

The pair then climbed a maintenance gantry and removed the hatch on one of the containers’ refrigeration units.

Border Force officers, who were awaiting their arrival, quickly closed in and they both fled across the port’s grounds before being detained. Suruhan was found to have bolts in his pocket, which were later matched to the container’s hatch.

NCA officers arrested Rapai outside the port in a supermarket car park, just a few hundred yards from his lookout spot.

Officers recovered individually wrapped blocks of cocaine from the container, weighing a combined 10 kilos – the street value of the drugs would have been up to £1m. 

Sheerness port

The three men appeared at Maidstone Crown Court on 7 August for sentencing. Saruhan and Bourke were both jailed for seven-and-a-half years, and Rapai for six years and seven months.

Adam Berry, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said: “This operation is a prime example of our ongoing work and commitment to ensure UK ports are impenetrable.

“Alongside our partners at Border Force and Peel Ports, we are determined to crack down on offenders attempting to exploit our borders.

“Had Saruhan, Bourke, and Rapai been successful in their operation, the cocaine they smuggled in would have had a destructive impact on our communities. Drugs are closely linked to serious violence throughout the supply chain, as well as firearm and knife crime. 

“The sentences passed down to them should serve as a stark warning to anyone attempting to import drugs onto UK soil.”

Border Force National Operations Director Danny Hewitt, said: “Drugs plague our society, fuelling violence on our streets which our communities are forced to endure.

“Thanks to the Border Force officers deployed at the Port of Sheerness, these despicable criminals were quickly detected and arrested for attempting to smuggle drugs into the UK.”

“If you work, live nearby, or are travelling through one of our ports you can play a vital role, by being vigilant and reporting anything that doesn’t look right to an officer or the Coastal Crime Line.”

By Ed

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