The Juan Sebastian de Elcano
is a training ship of the Spanish Royal Navy and at 113 meters (371 ft) long, it is the third-largest tall ship
in the world. Despite being the Spanish Navy's most "emblematic and symbolic vessel," Spain's Guardia Civil found 127 kg (280 lbs) of cocaine on board the training ship on July 30, 2014 – stashed in a storeroom where reserve sails are kept. The cocaine was found at the end of a training cruise which stopped in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) and New York, among other ports, and terminated in Cadiz, Spain.
Despite four years of investigation, the authorities were unable to determine who of the 185 crew members of the training ship was/were responsible for introducing the 280 pounds of cocaine onto the ship during the 2014 voyage. On June 15, 2018, the Military Court, considering the case, determined that the "lack of vigilance" made it impossible to identify those responsible. The lack of control was evident in the lack of a registry of the sailors who embarked or disembarked at the different ports. Even more dramatic was the fact that the Ministry of Defense promoted the ship's Captain at the time of the crime, to the post of Vice Admiral of the Cadiz Arsenal.
The Court proceedings noted that two of the sailors who worked in that storeroom had been processed in another case for trafficking 19.8 kilos of cocaine during the same voyage, and other members of the crew had also been accused of bringing different quantities of drugs on board in Colombia in order to sell them in New York. But according to the proceedings, these facts were not sufficient to charge them with bringing 280 pounds of the drugs on board "when they were not the only ones who presumably carried out this kind of cocaine trafficking."
The situation described by the judge is one of absolute lack of control. Although in theory, the storeroom in which the cocaine was found was reserved to those who worked there, "the lack of vigilance regarding keys and a correct monitoring of the book dedicated to the control of the keys" resulted in a situation where "anyone could enter and stay in the storeroom for whatever time necessary to hide the packages of cocaine." In addition, crew members who were not assigned to work in the storeroom also used it as a place for relaxation.
Furthermore, the judge noted that the Juan Sebastián Elcano
was anchored for four days in Cartagena "during which the majority of the crew left the ship with passes, without the military guard controlling neither their entries and exits from the ship, nor the effects which they brought on board; which, it appears, they also did not do in the other ports at which they stopped." That is to say that any member of the crew could bring on board cocaine without anyone registering it.
It appears that the crime of hiding of 280 pounds of cocaine on the ship will remain unpunished although seven crew members were punished for the petty crimes of trafficking in small quantities of cocaine.