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|File photo of Italian police officers conducting a security check-point in a central street of Rome. (Photo: AFP/Andreas Solaro)|
Italy's Guardia di Finanza (GDF) finance police swooped on the boat 130 nautical miles southeast of Sicily after tracking the vessel from the air for two days, a statement said, arresting all nine members of the vessel's crew.
The GDF said that the drugs recovered from the boat were of a sufficiently high quality that it had a market value of between €15 (US$17.7 million) and €20 million.
Two of the detained, including the first officer, have been identified as members of a "dangerous" Maltese criminal organisation, the authorities said. They had been arrested in Spain last summer in a joint operation between the GDF and Spanish police for trafficking 6,000 cases of contraband cigarettes.
Another suspect was a Sicilian whose criminal record contains previous conviction for armed robbery.
The boat, called Quest, was intercepted after it left Malta and headed for the Straits of Gibraltar, where it met drug dealers arriving on speedboats and was caught red-handed by swooping police.
The raid was part of an international anti-drug trafficking initiative called "Libeccio International" - Libeccio being a southwesterly wind that sweeps Italy and Corsica - in which Italy collaborates with a number of other European nations.