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Thursday 20 June 2019

Three held in drugs probe as armed team boards hi-tech yacht

Officers carry out a forensic search of the yacht at Castlepark Marina in Kinsale. Photo: Provision
Officers carry out a forensic search of the yacht at Castlepark Marina in Kinsale. Photo: Provision

Ralph Riegel

Gardaí are questioning three men after boarding a yacht off the Irish coast as part of a major drugs investigation.

The boat, a 14-metre Jeanneau-built Sun Magic class sloop, was boarded by gardaí with the assistance of Naval Service and Customs and Excise personnel as part of a planned operation.

An armed boarding party from the LÉ Eithne intercepted the vessel off the Co Kerry coast and the operation later concluded just off the Co Cork coast near Kinsale.

It followed an intelligence-led operation with the sloop having been under surveillance for some time by Naval Service units, including patrols ships and a maritime reconnaissance plane.

The vessel entered Irish waters from the Azores but is understood to have started its journey from just off Central America.

Three men found on board the vessel are currently being questioned by detectives.

Two are Irish and believed to be from the Co Louth area. The third is understood to be an East European national. All are understood to be in their late-20s or mid-30s.

The boat will now undergo a specialist forensic search operation.

The search will be conducted at a secure boatyard in Kinsale where the yacht will be kept under armed guard for several days.

However, no drugs were found by Garda and Naval search teams during the initial inspection while the vessel was still at sea.

A Naval Service vessel berthed in Kinsale harbour yesterday as part of the security operation.

The search may take a number of days to complete with specialist marine teams expected to dismantle large parts of the yacht's hull as part of the painstaking operation.

Specially trained drugs sniffer dogs will also be used in the search.

The sloop is understood to have operated mainly in parts of the French Caribbean over recent years.

Described as being in very good condition, the vessel is also equipped with multiple solar panels to operate its onboard electrical and navigational systems.

The three men detained are currently being questioned under drugs regulations at Bandon divisional garda station.

They can be held for an initial period of 24 hours but, if required, can be questioned for up to seven days.

Irish agencies acted in concert with the European police anti-drug trafficking group, which is based in Lisbon, Portugal, and is supported by both police and naval agencies across the EU and North America.

Irish Independent

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