Digby man caught up in major European drug bust

A former scallop fisherman from Digby, N.S., has been arrested on the high seas by Spanish police as part of a major international cocaine bust that targeted a Canadian-built ship.

Spanish police seize a tonne of cocaine on Canadian-registered ship

A former scallop fisherman from Digby, N.S., has been arrested on the high seas by Spanish police as part of a major international cocaine bust.

Officers from the Spanish National Police's special operations group seized a Canadian-built ship carrying at least a tonne of cocaine Tuesday morning. The ship was boarded 320 kilometres off the coast of Spain and was destined for the port of Vigo from the Caribbean, Spain's Interior Ministry said.

Seven crew aboard the vessel, including 53-year-old Digby native Philip Halliday, were arrested after a search of a secret compartment found the drugs. Police in Spain and England arrested a further 16 people of several nationalities on accusations that they participated in a criminal network seeking to import the drugs to London via the Caribbean.

"The subjects are experienced criminals with long-standing associations," Scotland Yard said in a statement. "Their network stretches from London and Spain to the Caribbean and Colombia."

Halliday's wife, Sheree, said she was informed by a phone call from Spanish police that her husband had been arrested, but she didn't know whether he had been charged.

"My husband is completely innocent. He was not aware of what was taking place on the ship. In no way would he ever jeopardize his safety or his family," Sheree Halliday said from Digby.

Halliday would not discuss how her husband got to be a crew member on the boat. She did say that she later heard from the Canadian Embassy in Madrid that Philip Halliday, who had heart bypass surgery last year, was first taken to a hospital in Spain and later to a prison hospital ward.

The ship is a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans craft that was decommissioned in 2001, sold in 2005 and then renamed the Destiny Empress. The 58-metre, steel-hulled boat was based in Nova Scotia until last spring, when it moved to the Caribbean. Pictures taken this year in Antigua show it still flying a Canadian flag, and Transport Canada's vessel registry lists it as a 1,200-tonne pleasure craft registered in Montreal to the Empress Investment Group Ltd.

Spanish police said it was the first time they had seized a boat of that type with drugs aboard. Officers who boarded the Destiny Empress found the cocaine under a trap door that had been bolted down with an aluminum plate and covered by a carpet in one of the ship's rooms.

The Spanish National Police said the drug haul amounted to a tonne, which would be worth about $75 million at British wholesale prices, while Scotland Yard asserted the seizure measured 1.5 tonnes and was worth $620 million at street prices.