Sunday 24 September 2017

Second cocaine boat was in Rosslare before seizure

Ralph Riegel and Tom Brady

The organisers of the €80m cocaine haul planned to offload the shipment from their yacht to another boat off the Co Wexford coast.

Gardai are now trying to establish if it was intended to land some of the cocaine here.

The second boat arrived at Rosslare last week and was discreetly checked out by gardai and Customs officers, but was not detained for operational reasons.

Two of its three-man crew have now been arrested by police in West Yorkshire following the seizure of the consignment near Mizen Head after the yacht, the Makayabella, was boarded by Naval Service officers on Tuesday morning.

A total of five UK nationals were in police custody last night and officers said they were seeking at least one more suspected member of the crime syndicate, who organised the shipment.

Cartel

Officers are satisfied the gang purchased the cocaine in a deal with a Colombian drugs cartel and then loaded it onto the yacht in Venezuelan waters.

It also emerged last night that the joint task force, comprised of the Naval Service, Garda and Customs officers, accelerated their plan to intercept the 60ft US-built yacht as they feared it could founder in heavy seas off the south west coast.

The yacht was taken on a long-term charter from a Grenadines-based firm which believed it was going to the Caribbean.

But, instead, it sailed from Trinidad towards Venezuela and then set off on a six-week journey for here, under surveillance by international agencies.

The armed boarding party from the LE Niamh found the 'Makayabella' battered from repeated storms.

The sails were ripped and, shortly after being boarded, its diesel engine failed forcing the yacht to be taken under tow by the LE Roisin.

Naval operations commander, Captain David Barry, said: "The yacht had been at sea for a considerable period and she wasn't capable of sailing efficiently.

"There were issues with her engine and she had to be towed over 200 miles into Cork".

Captain Barry said the seizure was very demanding given the distance and seas involved.

"We are very proud of the Naval Service contribution to this operation which was put together at very short notice," he said.

Assistant Garda Commissioner John O'Mahony said initial lab tests have confirmed the 41 bales, each weighing around 25kg, contained cocaine. But it will be several days before the purity of the cocaine and the street value can be confirmed.

If the cocaine is found to have a purity level of 70pc-75pc, similar to the €440m haul seized in Dunlough Bay in 2007, its value could soar over €120m.

He said it was unclear whether the drugs would have been unloaded in Ireland for onward transfer to the UK and Europe.

One of the three men detained aboard the yacht Makayabella is brought to the Bridewell Garda Station by Gardai
One of the three men detained aboard the yacht Makayabella is brought to the Bridewell Garda Station by Gardai

"It is very difficult to be exact but we have seen in the past that organised crime groups are pooling together their resources to buy it abroad and, when it comes into the UK, some of is transported to Ireland and some to the Continent."

'Divvied up'

"But we have seen instances where drugs have come into this jurisdiction and have been 'divvied up' and moved on to other jurisdictions."

Revenue Commission director, Liam Irwin, said the entire operation was "an enormous success".

The three crewmen arrested - the 70-year-old experienced skipper and 35- and 28-year-olds - are being questioned at the Bridewell garda station in Cork and can be held without charge for up to seven days.

Irish Independent

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