Yacht seized with €80m cocaine haul suffered engine damage
The yacht at the centre of an €80m cocaine seizure off the west Cork coast was battered in Atlantic gales and suffered sail and engine damage.
The revelation came as Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony confirmed today that test samples on bales found hidden in the hull of the 55ft 'Makayabella' confirmed it was cocaine.
Garda forensic teams will start unloading the cocaine from the yacht at Haulbowline Naval Base this afternoon.
However, it will be some time before the purity and precise origin of the cocaine can be determined.
Three UK nationals, all men and aged 70, 35 and 28 years, were arrested and are being questioned at the Bridewell Garda Station in Cork.
They can be held for up to seven days.
A fourth man was arrested in Yorkshire in the UK while British police are understood to be looking for two other men.
A number of premises have also been raided in the UK.
The operation by the Naval Service, Gardai and Customs & Excise followed a lengthy intelligence mission in which Irish agencies co-operated with UK, European and north American police forces.
It is believed the drugs, most likely from Columbia and transported from Venezuela, were destined for the UK and European markets rather than for Ireland.
The yacht ‘Makayabella’ was boarded some 250km off the west Cork coast in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The boarding took place after the Naval Service had been on standby for the yacht’s arrival off the Irish coast since last Sunday.
When boarded it was found that the yacht's sails had been torn in a gale.
Shortly after being boarded, its engine failed and the 'Makayabella' had to be taken under tow by the LE Roisin.
The intelligence about the vessel came from the Lisbon-based Maritime Analysis Operations Centre-Narcotics (MAOCN).
An armed Navy boarding team from the LE Niamh, supported by LE Roisin, led the operation with the occupants of the yacht not putting up any resistance when confronted 250km off the Mizen Head.
The second Naval Service vessel was in the area for support.
This was in the belief the 55ft yacht was expected to rendezvous with another craft which would then bring the drugs ashore.
The ocean-going yacht was then taken under escort to Cork harbour after being boarded by Gardai and Revenue Commissioner officials.
It berthed at Haulbowline Naval Base at 11pm last night where a detailed search operation immediately began.
Gardai are liaising with the UK authorities where it is expected that further arrests will be made over the next 24 hours.
Irish agencies only boarded the vessel once the UK authorities had been fully briefed.
The yacht was flying an Irish flag when it was boarded but its actual registration remains unclear.
Garda sources stressed that the value of the seizure cannot be confirmed until the yacht is forensically examined and the suspected drug shipment is subjected to a detailed laboratory analysis.
The value of the haul will be determined by the purity of the cocaine involved.
At least 40 bales were found in the yacht’s hull.
Armed military police sealed off Haulbowline Naval Base with all private contractors, including a team working on a construction project, being asked to leave the area temporarily for security reasons.
If the seizure does involve €80m of cocaine as suspected, it will rank as one of the largest hauls in Irish history.
It will also be the biggest offshore cocaine seizure in Europe in the past 18 months.
The biggest drug seizures in Irish history have all been made off the Cork coast.
The largest seizure remains the €440m of high grade Colombian 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 boat capsized in heavy seas and the bulk of the gang members were arrested before they could flee.
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.
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 was found to be carrying 1.5 tonne 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 €400m.
The ‘Dances With Waves’, like the ‘Makayabella’, was kept under surveillance by over-the-horizon radar and satellites as it crossed from the Caribbean towards Europe.