Sunbathers on a beach near Malaga looked on in astonishment as a police helicopter chased an alleged smuggling boat on to the shore, in a dramatic chase caught on camera and released by Spanish authorities.
Sabinillas beach, near the town of Manilva on the Costa del Sol, was packed with families enjoying the morning sun when the boat headed towards it at high speed, with the helicopter in close pursuit.
Some witnesses believed they were watching a television or movie shoot, they later told local press, as the speedboat drove right on to the beach and its occupant tried to escape on foot.
But it was in fact a smuggler from La Línea de La Concepción, the town on the border with Gibraltar that has become a major hub for drug trafficking in recent years, local press cited official sources as saying.
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The vessel had been detected in the Gibraltar Strait as it supplied a second – a so-called "narco boat" – with fuel for its drug run, according to sources who spoke to the Malaga-based newspaper Diario Sur.
When the police helicopter intercepted the two boats, the second sped off in the direction of Morocco, while the first headed back to the Spanish coast.
As the boat’s driver tried to flee through the crowded beach, the police helicopter lost sight of him. But as it radioed for reinforcements, the fugitive was caught by a sunbather – an off-duty police officer who fortuitously happened to be enjoying a day at the beach with his family.
Police in the Bay of Gibraltar area have repeatedly raised the alarm this year over the growth of drug trafficking in the region, where cocaine seizures rose 300 percent last year.
The Spanish government has pledged to step up action amid warnings that Europe’s "first cartel" is starting to take root and increasingly challenging state authority in the area, one of the largest gateways for narcotics on the continent.