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The Italian Guardia di Finanza said today that a ship which caught fire some 30 miles north of Malta yesterday had been carrying cannabis.
The MV Gold Star was carrying more than 30 tons of the drug, the Guardia said.
It said the ship may have been set on fire on purpose to avoid arrest and destroy the cargo.
The fierce fire was brought under control early this morning.
Two AFM patrol boats, an interceptor craft and a rescue launch of the Civil Protection Department were among the units which used their fire-fighting equipment to fight the fire overnight. A number of Italian naval units were also involved, with the operation being coordinated by the AFM.
The Gold Star radioed for help when it was 30 nautical miles north of Malta.
The AFM immediately dispatched two patrol boats and a fast interceptor as well as an Alouette III helicopter. The Civil Protection Department deployed the Garibaldi.
A number of civilian support vessels including the ‘Nos Taurus’ also took part in the operation.
Nine crew members were picked up by an Italian Guardia di Finanza vessel that was close by.