GARDAI recovered €440m worth of high-grade cocaine from the sea off West Cork after a drug-smuggling boat sank when its petrol engines failed after being filled with diesel.
The stunning revelation came as the State opened its evidence in the trial of three Britons who deny attempting to smuggle 1,500kg of cocaine wrapped in 62 bales into Ireland last July.
The cocaine has a street value more than four times greater than first thought -- because it involved drugs with a purity level of 75pc. In contrast, street cocaine has an average purity of 12pc to 15pc.
The trio -- Perry Wharrie (48), Martin Wanden (45) and Joe Daly (41) -- deny three charges each of possessing cocaine for sale or supply in West Cork last summer.
Judge Sean O'Donnabhain and the Cork Circuit Criminal Court jury of nine men and three women have been told the case involves up to 577 witnesses and could last 10 weeks.
Tom Creed, for the State, said that the attempted drug-smuggling operation involved a massive logistical operation stretching over three continents -- and involved "a joint enterprise" with at least five other people not currently before the Irish courts.
He said the gardai investigation into the smuggling operation was massively boosted when a 'Pele box' or waterproof container was recovered from the sea off Dunlough Bay last July -- not far from the cocaine bales and the rescue site.
Within this box was found an operational mobile phone, satellite phone and two-way radio -- all of which played a crucial role in the garda probe.
Mr Creed claimed the operation was uncovered when a man knocked at the door of a West Cork farmhouse on July 2 last to say that a boat containing three men had just sunk.
Weather conditions were poor at the time with force 5 winds. The man identified himself as Gerard O'Leary, but it was claimed that gardai later discovered that the man's real name was Gerard Hagan.
The Irish Coastguard were immediately alerted and a second man was plucked from the sea and taken to Bantry Hospital for treatment for hypothermia.
This man was identified as Martin Wanden, who also operates under the aliases Stephen Witsey and Anthony Claude Lyndon. Passports were issued to him under all three names.
The court heard that one quick-thinking Coastguard unit which responded to the rescue alert became suspicious of a vehicle parked near Dunlough Bay and deliberately blocked it in. Coastguard officials became further suspicious when two men said that three others were in the sea and needed help -- but these men were themselves walking in the opposite direction.
The men quickly left the area on foot -- and never approached the parked Land Rover jeep.
These men were apprehended two days later in West Cork in a dishevelled state and were identified in court as Joe Daly and Perry Wharrie.
It was claimed that gardai later found that Perry Wharrie also operated under the alias Andrew Woodcraft.
Mr Creed said the State's case is that the three men -- with others -- were involved in a joint operation to smuggle the drugs into Ireland.
He said an enormous logistical effort was involved, including the purchase of three powerful Land Rover jeeps, the hiring of saloon car, two high-powered Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs), the renting of two properties in west Cork, the use of satellite communications and a range of different mobiles.
Mr Creed said that the smuggling operation even involved the use of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems and a rendezvous with a larger drug ship at a weather buoy moored 30 miles south-west of the Mizen Head.
Mr Creed said that an examination of the material contained in four seized vehicles -- three Land Rover jeeps and a Volkswagen Passat saloon -- will show links between all the men as well as a number of individuals not before the courts.
These include Michael Daly (brother of Joe Daly), Alan 'Big Al' Wells, who also goes by the name Charles Goldie; Robert Ferguson; Anthony Beard; John Edney; Stephen Brown; two Lithuanian nationals and two women. The larger ship was identified as the catamaran, 'Lucky Day', which Mr Creed said had brought the drugs from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to West Cork.
The State's case is that the drugs were unloaded from the 'Lucky Day' onto a 7.8 metre RIB for transfer to Dunmanus Bay where a second RIB, a rescue boat, was waiting along with the jeeps.
However, the original 275 horse-power engine was removed from the larger RIB and replaced with two 200 horse-power Yamaha petrol engines.
The State claims the RIB got into difficulty off the Mizen when the engines failed after diesel was apparently filled into their tanks instead of petrol.
Mr Creed said that, after the rescue operation was launched, 61 bales of cocaine were recovered from the sea over the next few days. A 62nd bale was recovered some time later.
He said the State argues that circumstantial evidence links all the men with each other and with the vehicles and boats involved in the drug-smuggling operation.
He said the State will show that Perry Wharrie -- who had dental problems and twice attended dentists in Ireland -- will be linked to one of the seized Land Rovers from DNA found on a toothpick.
The three face charges under the Misuse of Drugs Act including the possession of cocaine and the possession of cocaine for the purpose of sale or supply.
They each also face a charge of possessing cocaine for sale or supply with a value in excess of €13,000. The charges relate to the alleged possession of the controlled drug on July 2 last at Dunlough Bay, Mizen, Goleen, Co Cork.
The men all have addresses in the UK including Perry Wharrie, of Pyrles Lane, Essex, England; Joe Daly of Carrisbrooke Avenue, Bexley, Kent; and Martin Wanden of no fixed address.
The case continues today.