Spanish authorities arrested nine people during a major operation, which took place in November but was kept under wraps until the investigation was completed.

The police arrested a group of suspected cocaine traffickers on a tug transporting 2,3 tonnes of cocaine from South America in the middle of the Atlantic after one of them, of Serbian origin, shot a fellow smuggler and took the rest hostage.

A Serbian national seized control of the vessel, allegedly shot one of the other smugglers, threw his body overboard and took the eight other crew members hostage.

Tipped off about a shipment of some 2.3 tonnes of cocaine from South America to be transferred to a smaller boat near the Canary Islands, Spanish police launched an operation to seize the drug during which they discovered the hostage situation.

A police team identified the mother ship that was waiting for the second vessel to transfer the drugs.

In less than 12 hours, an intervention team arrived at the point in the Atlantic where the vessel was located and, after several hours of negotiations on the high seas, managed to arrest the hijacker and the other eight crew members.

Agents of the national police negotiated for several hours until they finally managed to get the kidnapper to put down his weapon and surrender to the authorities, the Spanish police statement reads.

They also managed to get the crew, who feared for their lives, to safety, and seize the narcotic substance.