Sunday 25 August 2019

€80m haul of cocaine is seized off coast of Cork

Ralph Riegel and Tom Brady

Armed forces landed on a yacht with more than €80m cocaine on board as part of an international operation.

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland earlier today, Commander Eric Tymon said the vessel remains in the naval yard in Cork this morning and will be subjected to a full forensic examination later today.

The National Crime Agency in the UK and the French Custom Service were involved in the international operation, which was headed up by an Irish joint task force comprising of gardai, revenue and the naval service who co-ordinated the operation at sea.

Cmdr Tymon said last night's operation was carried out in "challenging conditons" with "poor visibility" at sea.

The vessel was located 200 miles off Mizen Head, Cmdr Tymon said.

A decision was then made to deploy an armed boarding party.

Shortly after this, gardai arrested the three men on board.

The massive cocaine shipment estimated to be worth €80m was off the west Cork coast after a yacht was tracked from Venezuela.

The yacht was intercepted by Naval Service vessels following an intelligence led operation that began early this year.

The three-man crew were arrested by gardai last night after Customs officers had officially detained the yacht, "Makayabella".

A fourth suspect was arrested in England by West Yorkshire police last night.

It is believed that the Makayabella set out from Trinidad in mid August and then sailed into Venezuelan waters where the bales of cocaine were loaded on board.

Initial estimates put the value of the consignment at around €80m but after it had been cut up and mixed, it could have been worth up to three times that figure on the streets, depending on the purity.

The yacht began its crossing in late August with the crew unaware its movements were being monitored by over the horizon radar and satellite by agencies from seven countries.

The crew of three are believed to be UK nationals although further checks are being carried out on the passport held by one of them, who may have been living in Venezuela for some time.

Two Naval vessels, the LE Niamh and the LE Roisin, had been on stand-by for the yacht's arrival, off the Irish Coast, since Sunday.

A second Naval vessel had been deployed as officers were concerned at reports that the cocaine smugglers might attempt to transfer the shipment to a second, smaller boat.

Officers think it was intended to land the consignment, which included at least 40 bales of cocaine crammed into the yacht's hull, either here or in the UK with the drugs destined for a number of European markets.

The three Irish agencies, which formed a joint task force, co-operated with their counterparts in the UK, mainland and north American police forces as they gathered intelligence over several months.

Much of the intelligence came through the Lisbon-based Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre - Narcotics (MAOC-N), which was set up in an initiative taken by France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK.

The drugs are believed to have originated in Colombia.

The 55 ft Makayabella was boarded by a team of officers from the Niamh, supported by the Roisin, some 200 kilometres off Mizen Head in the early hours of Tuesday morning and the crew did not offer any resistance.

The three arrests were made when the yacht was boarded in Irish territorial waters. It is the biggest offshore cocaine seizure in Europe in the past 18 months.

The men were taken into garda custody after the yacht berthed at Haulbowline Naval base after 9pm and the consignment was put under armed guard before a detailed examination of the cargo began this morning.

Gardai are liaising with the UK authorities where inquiries are on-going and could result in further arrests there.

The yacht was flying an Irish flag when it was boarded but its registration has not yet been fully determined.

Gardai stressed that the full value of the seizure could not be confirmed until the yacht had been forensically examined and the drug shipment subjected to a detailed laboratory analysis. Armed military police sealed off the Naval base yesterday with all private contractors, asked to leave the area, temporarily.

Irish Independent

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