A MAJOR CRIME investigation involved a group suspected of attempting to import cocaine from South America into the south of England on a cruise ship liner being stopped in the Solent.

Supported by Border Force, the National Crime Agency's (NCA) Operation Sylleptic led to three people being arrested earlier this year, including a crew member of the cruise ship.

Two others from the north of England were later arrested, one at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Kent as they attempted to leave the UK.

The cruise ship arrests took place on April 25 and have been detailed today as part of a major NCA announcement on efforts to fight criminal conspiracies.

All five people suspected of attempting to smuggle drugs have been charged and now await trial.

Operation Sylleptic is one of many investigations revealed by UK crime-fighting agencies as they announced a massive breakthrough in the fight against serious and organised crime.

Working together they have "smashed thousands of criminal conspiracies" including a global communication network - EncroChat - used "exclusively by criminals".

EncroChat reportedly offers a secure phone messaging service used for planning, and the distribution of illegal commodities.

With 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the UK, it is also used to aid money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.

Since 2016, the National Crime Agency has been working with international law enforcement agencies to target EncroChat.

In the UK - and part of Operation Venetic - the NCA says it has made 746 arrests, seized £54 million cash, 77 firearms and over two tonnes of drugs.

NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said: “The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK’s criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country.

“This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organised crime.

“The NCA is proud to have led the UK part of this operation, working in partnership with policing and other agencies. The results have been outstanding but this is just the start.

“A dedicated team of over 500 NCA officers has been working on Operation Venetic night and day, and thousands more across policing. And it’s all been made possible because of the superb work with our international partners.

“Together we’ve protected the public by arresting middle-tier criminals and the kingpins, the so-called iconic untouchables who have evaded law enforcement for years, and now we have the evidence to prosecute them.

“The NCA plays a key role in international efforts to combat encrypted comms. I’d say to any criminal who uses an encrypted phone, you should be very, very worried.”