Irish man held in Spanish jail over 500kg cocaine discovery released after two years
An Irish ‘Good Samaritan’ held for two years in a Spanish jail following the discovery of 500kg of cocaine on a yacht in Gran Canaria in 2013, has been released.
Kenny Coalter (65) endured two years in Salto del Negro prison in Las Palmas before being released on July 3rd. He says he was given no explanation for his release and was not given his passport back.
He is now fighting to have his passport and belongings returned so he can return home to visit his 90-year-old mother, Elizabeth, in Omagh, Co Tyrone.
Mr Coalter claims he has received no assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
A spokeswoman for the Department said they were “aware” of his case and had “provided consular assistance”.
Mr Coalter had been held without charge for two years under Spanish incarceration laws which allow a person’s detention without charge for up to three years.
Spanish police who intercepted the Maid of Orleans in the Atlantic with 500kg of cocaine on board in August 2013 arrested him along with two Americans and two Spanish nationals who are still being held.
Mr Coalter, a mechanic by trade, was described by friends from the ex-pat community living in Gran Canaria as a ‘Good Samaritan’ who was widely respected for helping other sailors with boat trouble on the marina at Las Palmas.
He had helped carry out repairs on the Maid of Orleans which had berthed beside his 32-foot yacht, Mistral of Ireland.
Mr Coalter explains: “They had trouble with their fuel pipes which is a tricky job and I told them they needed to be replaced.
“The next thing I knew I was arrested and locked up. It was very hard but you learn to keep your head down. There were fights and lots of drugs but I kept to myself. I helped some of the prisoners with their English and I got left alone.
“I was never given any clear documentation in English and, well it was a nightmare. I couldn’t defend myself.
“Luckily for me I have great friends here. (A friend) wrote to the Taoiseach and got a letter back saying the Taoiseach’s office had passed it on to the Department of Justice and Department of Foreign Affairs. We got a letter from Justice saying they were ‘looking into it’. We never heard anything from Foreign Affairs.
“I did feel I was abandoned by the Department of Foreign Affairs. They did absolutely nothing for me. There was a Dutch sailor in with me at one stage, in the same situation. I leant him a telephone card and he got in touch with his wife who contacted the Dutch Government. They had him out two days later.”
Mr Coalter was last week attempting to get before a court to have his passport and other belongings taken by Spanish police returned to him. The police, he said, even took his hearing aid along with his mobile phone, laptop and other equipment from his boat.
Mr Coalter's friend said that while he and his other friends were delighted that Kenny was released they were still fighting to have his passport and belongings returned to him.
“Kenny was given a massive reception when he came back to the marina. Everyone here loves Kenny. He has helped so many people.
“It’s pretty shocking what is still going on. He’s still not allowed to board his boat which was forensically searched twice and nothing found. Kenny had done what he always does and helped sailors who needed assistance. He is a great engineer and the most helpful man you could ever meet.
Mr Coalter said he fully intends returning to Las Palmas after, he hopes, he can travel to see his mother. He is currently staying with his friend on board his yacht.
Mr Coalter left Dublin 10 years ago selling his haulage business and home in Dunboyne, Co Meath after separating. He remarried in August 2009 in Las Palmas and was living quietly pursuing his leisure interests in ocean sailing and his Harley Davison motorcycle. He and his wife Regina who he met while running a bar in Miramar, toured around Spain and France on the motorbike before settling in Gran Canaria. His wife returned to her family in the Philippines after his arrest and is now hoping to return to their home in Las Palmas.
Mr Coalter had lived and worked in Dublin since 1978 and retired after working as a haulage contractor for Irish Distillers.