Huge stash of cocaine found on tall ship visited by President
JUST over eight weeks ago, President Michael D Higgins stood on the deck of Spain's so-called "floating embassy" during an official inspection while on a stop-over in Dublin.
But little did he know that hidden in the storeroom of the Juan Sebastian Elcano - one of the world's largest tall ships - was more than 127kg of pure cocaine that was allegedly smuggled aboard from Colombia.
Three Spanish naval officers are now facing prison terms if they are found guilty of shipping the drug from Cartagena de Indias in Colombia to New York City on the Spanish naval training ship.
The sailors were arrested last month after US drug enforcement officers uncovered a plot in May to smuggle the drug aboard the ship as it went from port to port from Central America to northern Europe as part of a six- month training cruise.
New York police officers seized 20kg of the drug from two Colombians they arrested in the city and, after questioning them, learned that the drugs had been shipped by the so-called "floating embassy for Spain".
A major international operation was launched between the Spanish Civil Guard and US Homeland Security which led to three sailors, two Spaniards and one Ecuadorian, being arrested after officers stormed the ship on July 12 when it was docked in Bueu, Pontevedra, in north-west Spain.
They were detained in a military prison in Madrid, where they now face charges of drug trafficking, which carries a sentence of up to six years in jail.
Another bizarre chapter in the story unfolded this week when officials uncovered a further 127kg in a storeroom of candles aboard the training ship.
Prior to the discovery, the ship, built in 1927 and one of the three largest tall ships in the world, had hosted a number of high-ranking dignitaries, including Michael D Higgins
Spain's ambassador to Ireland Javier Garrigues Florez welcomed the Irish president aboard when it docked at Sir John Rogerson's quay on the River Liffey on June 9.
Mr Higgins carried out a ceremonial inspection of the crew.
The impressive ship was among numerous tall ships from around the world that docked in the Irish capital for the annual Dublin Riverfest during the June bank holiday weekend.
The ship is widely renowned as one of the most spectacular tall ships in existence and is a source of pride to the Spanish navy, which calls it "our most emblematic and symbolic vessel".
How it ended up doing apparent double-duty as an unwilling accomplice in the international drugs trade remains to be seen.
The investigation was launched three weeks after three crew members were arrested while at port in Galicia, Spain for allegedly selling up to 20kg of cocaine while the ship was docked in New York.