Crime Story: A smuggler loses hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and an island goes crazy

It was the 69th day of his trip and Antonino Quinci had a problem.

Crime Story: A smuggler loses hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and an island goes crazy

It was the 69th day of his trip and Antonino Quinci had a problem. The “Mario”, a 14 meter long yacht, carried him safely across the Atlantic for 69 days. He wanted to sail from Venezuela, where he had set sail, to the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean; He was supposed to deliver his cargo there. But then the “Mario” was hit by a severe storm. The rudder was gone, it must have broken.

Quinci, a 44-year-old Sicilian, was an experienced sailor. But in the middle of the sea, without a working rudder, even experience isn't much use. It was still more than 2,500 kilometers to the Balearic Islands.

What was he supposed to do?

It was June 6, 2001. The “Mario” was drifting across the Atlantic. Fortunately, land could be seen not far away, green hills, steep cliffs. That had to be São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores. Quinci had no choice. He would take a chance: somehow maneuver the yacht towards the island, go to a harbor there and repair the rudder.

But there was something he absolutely had to do first.

The new day had just begun. But the teacher Francisco Negalha was already awake that morning in the summer of 2001. Together with his two-year-old son, he went down to the water, to the Praia do Pópulo in the south of São Miguel. Negalha loves the beaches of his home island with their black volcanic rocks and the high Atlantic waves that seem to crash on the coast. He let his gaze wander over the expanse, sea and sand and no people except his son and him. Then he discovered the gray plastic package.

Negalha ran to the rock where the package was lying, angry at those damned polluters who carelessly left their trash on the beach, when he saw an opening in the package. A crack from which a white powder oozed, shining in contrast to the dark stone.

At that moment, Negalha says today, he noticed the lights from the flashlights at the top of the parking lot. “I knew I was being watched.”

Francisco Negalha is now 62 years old, a man with a neat short haircut and a serious look. On a warm September day he sits on the black rocks by the water at Praia do Pópulo. He didn't want to go to the café that overlooks the bay. You never know who is listening, says Negalha. Even so many years later, he still feels uncomfortable talking in public about what was washed up everywhere back then, what people all over the island were feverishly looking for.

When he saw the flashlights, Negalha immediately took his son by the hand and called the police from the nearest phone booth. He reported what he had found. As it later turned out, it was 15 kilograms of pure cocaine.

Access to all STERN PLUS content and articles from the print magazine

ad-free

Already registered?

NEXT NEWS