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Mexico seizes 26 tons of cocaine

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities said Thursday they had seized 26 tons of cocaine from a ship in the port city of Manzanillo in one of the biggest drug busts on record.

Police and marines discovered the drugs Tuesday in a cargo container aboard the Hong Kong-flagged ship Esmeralda, which sailed from Buenaventura, Colombia, the federal attorney general's office said.

Authorities initially said they had found at least 12 tons of cocaine on the ship.

But on Thursday, the navy, the attorney general's office and Public Safety and Defense departments released a statement saying a second stash of cocaine had been discovered amid the ship's cargo, bringing the total seizure to 26 tons.

The statement said the cocaine was found in more than 21,000 packages and that authorities were still searching for more drugs.

Mexico's government called it the largest drug seizure in the country's history. On Oct. 5, authorities seized 11 tons of cocaine in the northern Mexican city of Tampico.

Tuesday's seizure also appeared to be one of the biggest anywhere.

In March, the U.S. Coast Guard seized more than 20 tons of cocaine, worth nearly $300 million, off Panama's Pacific coast. DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney on Thursday described the Panama bust as the largest known drug seizure.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza said the Manzanillo seizure was a sign of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's "commitment to cripple drug lords and bring them to justice."

Garza said Thursday that it also underscores the urgency of approving funds for the Merida Initiative, a U.S. proposal to give Mexico $1.4 billion to fight narcotics-related crime.

Congress has yet to approve President Bush's request for an initial installment of $500 million for the plan, which would provide training and equipment to Mexican forces.