Our coastal waters known as Europe's drugs highwway
FOR three decades the sea lanes off Ireland's south-west coast have been dubbed Europe's drugs highway.
Both for drug shipments indirectly smuggled into Europe via the myriad small coves and inlets that mark the Cork and Kerry coasts as well as for the channels that allow direct access to the UK and European mainland, Irish waters have witnessed a titanic battle between South American drug barons and European police agencies.
It is hardly surprising then that the three biggest drug seizures in Irish history have all been made off the Cork coast including the latest, the estimated €80m worth of cocaine found on board the 55ft ocean-going yacht 'Makayabella'.
The largest seizure remains the €440m of high grade Columbian cocaine seized in Dunlough Bay in west Cork in July 2007. That smuggling plot was scuppered when the UK gang overloaded a smaller boat used to ferry the drugs ashore and accidentally filled a spare fuel tank with diesel instead of petrol.
The bulk of the UK gang members were arrested before they could flee.
Three of the four prosecuted in Ireland received the heaviest drug smuggling sentences ever handed down by the Circuit Criminal Court, two receiving 30-year prison terms.
A total of 62 bales of Columbian cocaine were left floating in the bay with a purity level of more than 75pc and a street value of €440m - more than double what gardai had originally anticipated.
The purity of the cocaine remains the highest ever discovered by the gardai.
In November 2008, the yacht 'Dances With Waves' was intercepted by the Naval Service, Gardai and Customs almost 100km off the west Cork coast.
It transpired later that one of the crew was so sea-sick that he expressed relief at the Naval Service's arrival.
The yacht was found to be carrying 1.5 tonnes of cocaine destined for the UK market.
That shipment, because its purity was not as high as the Dunlough Bay seizure, was eventually given a street value of under €400m.
But the 'Dances With Waves' crew were doomed in their enterprise before they ever left the Caribbean with the yacht having been under constant radar and satellite surveillance as part of 'Operation Seabight'.
In another twist, the yacht 'Makayabella' is believed to have started its transatlantic journey from between Trinidad and Venezuela - the very same point of origin for the 'Lucky Day', the yacht at the centre of the 2007 Dunlough Bay seizure.
Similar satellite and 'over the horizon' radar surveillance is beleived to have been maintained of the 'Makayabella' as the yacht headed from the Caribbean towards Europe.
The waters off Venezuela are notorious as the point of origin for most major cocaine shipments, particularly favoured by Columbian drug gangs who source their cocaine to the coast from the Medellin cartel areas.