Drugs had arrived on a boat from Costa Rica and were hidden inside a shipment of bananas

A major National Crime Agency-led operation targeting a suspected organised crime group alleged to have used an insider at Sheerness port in Kent has resulted in the arrest and charging of seven men and the seizure of around 1.2 tonnes of cocaine.

It took more than one hundred officers – including the NCA’s Armed Operations Unit and specialist firearms teams from Kent Police – moved in to carry out the strike at the port.

The operation follows an NCA investigation into a group suspected of plotting with a port worker to smuggle significant amounts of class A into the UK drugs market through Sheerness.

The investigation has been supported by Border Force and carried out with the co-operation of the port operator.

NCA investigators believe the drugs had arrived on a boat from Costa Rica and were hidden inside a shipment of bananas. The haul has an estimated street value of more than £90 million.

The operation saw a 27-year-old man who worked as a security guard at the port arrested alongside five others.

A seventh man was detained at his home in Hertfordshire. A number of properties were searched following the arrests.

After being questioned by NCA investigators all seven were charged with conspiring to import class A drugs, and are expected to appear before Medway Magistrates.

NCA Regional Head of Investigation Jacque Beer said: “Our investigation has focused on what we believe to be a dangerous group intent on importing large amounts of drugs to the UK, using insider contacts within the port.

“We know that criminal gangs target insiders within ports and airport for their knowledge and access.

“While it is rare, when it happens it represents a disproportionately large threat, which is why it is such a focus for the NCA.

“We believe this activity has thwarted those intentions and led to the dismantling of the network involved.

“This was a major operation involving a large number of law enforcement officers from the NCA, our Kent Police colleagues and Border Force, who I’d like to thank for their assistance, as well as the port operator.

“Working together we are determined to do all we can to protect the security and integrity of the UK border.”

Minister for Security and Borders Damian Hinds said: “This seizure has prevented a significant amount of dangerous drugs from ending up on our streets, which not only reduces the harm they cause to communities but also makes a huge dent in the profits of smugglers.

“Joint working, including intelligence sharing, between our Border Force officers, the NCA and wider law enforcement partners is essential to preventing drug trafficking like this.”

The investigation continues and anyone with information or suspicions about this type of activity is urged to contact Crimestoppers anonymously or the police via 101.