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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Historic haul is all in day's work for the drug busters

Shane Phelan in Castletownbere

WITH a battered hull, faded paint and torn sails, the yacht carrying Ireland's largest drugs haul must have looked a pathetic shadow of the boat which left the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean with its illicit cargo several weeks ago.

Delayed by rough weather and engine failure, 'Dances With Waves', an unremarkable 60-ft-long sloop yacht, finally arrived into Castletownbere harbour yesterday morning some seven hours later than initially predicted.

On board were 75 bales of high-grade cocaine, each weighing 25 kilos. It was an astonishing mother-load worth up to €675m which had been destined to spread misery throughout Europe.

Ironically, the criminal enterprise could have been scuppered even if the boat hadn't been detected by authorities. Rough seas left it close to capsizing late on Wednesday night, just hours before it was boarded by naval personnel.

The weather conditions yesterday morning were not as bad but there was still a stiff wind and driving rain to contend with.

Two boats, manned by armed naval officers looking not unlike an American SWAT team, flanked the yacht until it safely docked alongside the Customs Cutter at Dinish Island pier, the harbour's fish processing hub, at 9.29am.

Waiting there was a coterie of gardai and naval personnel, including Lieutenant Commander Martin Brett of the LE Niamh, which intercepted the yacht on Wednesday night, and Detective Superintendent Pat Byrne of the Garda National Drug Unit.

Further down the pier fishermen went about their business, almost oblivious to the gardai armed with Uzi submachine guns who were keeping a close eye on proceedings.

"All in a day's work," quipped one plainclothes detective. Others involved were beaming with pride that gardai, customs and the Navy had combined so effectively to thwart a major criminal organisation.

"This is the best operation we've ever done," said Lieutenant Commander Eugene Ryan, director of fleet operations for the Navy.

But while the mood of the officers momentarily appeared relaxed, there was no mistaking the seriousness of the task at hand.Talk quickly turned to securing the evidence. The approach of everyone involved was single-minded. Everything had to be done by the book.

Naval officers had to officially hand it over to garda custody so it could be declared a crime scene. A uniformed officer was then directed to keep a record of every person entering the vessel.

Forensics

A garda photographer was the first on board, taking the pictures which gardai hope a prosecutor will one day show a jury. Then came the ballistics and forensics experts.

Around lunchtime, each bale was carefully loaded into white vans on the pier.

By 2pm a convoy of vans and unmarked garda cars left the pier with sirens blaring, en route to a secure location where the drugs will be tested and stored.

The hard work done, Det Supt Byrne said: "We're very happy with the success. We're very happy to remove so much product from the streets of Europe."

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