Picture: Kimberly White/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

London - A British husband and wife in their 70s have been arrested on a cruise liner in Portugal for allegedly smuggling "high grade" cocaine worth almost £2 million (R36m).

The unnamed man, 72, and woman, 70, are said to have "ingeniously concealed" 9kg of the drug in four suitcases after the ship stopped off in the Caribbean.

They were arrested moments after the Marco Polo docked in Lisbon on December 4.

The pensioners have appeared before a judge and are now being held in prison while they await a trial date. The couple paid more than £2,000 each for the 33-day cruise, which set sail from Tilbury, Essex, on November 5.

Portuguese police arrested the pair after receiving a tip-off from the UK’s National Crime Agency.

Police chief Vitor Ananais said the couple were British but did not currently live in the UK.

He added: "They are a married couple. We worked together in an investigation with the NCA after profiling this couple as suspected transporters of drugs.

"We went to their room on the ship and arrested the couple after finding 9kg of cocaine."

He explained: "The purity of the cocaine is high grade. It was hidden inside suitcases - inside a special metal structure - and was distributed evenly among four cases in the cabin.

"We believe the couple were given the drugs on a Caribbean island. The final destination [of the cruise] was England.

"But we don’t know if the couple wanted to offload the drugs before the final destination. They are from England but don’t currently live there."

The ship, operated by Cruise & Maritime Voyages, had 610 passengers and 294 crew on board.

It stopped off at locations including Amsterdam, Antigua, St Lucia, Barbados and Madeira.

The Marco Polo, which operates child-free cruises, has eight passenger decks, a shopping arcade, spa and swimming pool.

Ananais said the couple "blended in" with the cruise’s other elderly passengers, adding: "They were not at all showy. They were travelling alone. They didn’t try to protest their innocence after their arrests. They haven’t said anything to police as to how the drugs got in their cases."

A spokesman for Cruise & Maritime Voyages said: "Portuguese police officials attended the Marco Polo in Lisbon last Tuesday and detained two passengers.

"It is understood this was in connection with the suspected possession of narcotics.

"Cruise & Maritime Voyages do not tolerate any criminal activity or anti-social behaviour on board their ships."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Our staff are in contact with the Portuguese authorities following the arrest of a British man and woman in Lisbon."

Daily Mail