Huge Drugs Find in Cork

By Paddy Clancy
 GARDAI (police) and customs teams fished the largest ever haul of cocaine from the seas off west Cork after an inflatable dinghy ferrying the drug ashore from a mother ship overturned and sank 1.25 miles off shore.

The cache was estimated to have a street value of more than $300 million when bulked and mixed with a glucose agent  more than the value of all illicit drugs seized in the State last year.

About 60 bales measuring three feet by one foot bobbed about on the wave tops before they were scooped up by a customs vessel and handed to drugs squad cops for tests.

The haul, weighing around 3,300 pounds, was believed to be destined for the U.K. and Irish markets. Gardai said it was likely the drugs originated in South America and had been transported via the Caribbean or West Africa through Spain.

U.K. and Spanish authorities were alerted and an international search operation was launched in an effort to locate the “mother vessel” used to deliver the drugs to the offshore drop-off point.

One of two men thrown overboard from the dinghy, known as a RIB, a rigid inflatable boat, managed to swim to shore and raise the alarm early Monday morning. A second man was taken from the water by the Castletownbere lifeboat before being transferred to hospital in Bantry. Both men were suffering from hypothermia but were in a stable condition.

One, aged 22 and from Monaghan and who was previously unknown to Gardai, was later discharged from hospital and arrested under drug trafficking legislation. He was transferred to Bantry Garda station.

He is believed to have been living in Spain and Britain recently. Officers were waiting for the second person, a middle-aged man believed to be British, to recover sufficiently to be also arrested.

A search for a third man, involving a number of lifeboats and an Irish Coast Guard helicopter from Shannon, lasted most of a day before police confirmed they had Intelligence that there were only two people in the dinghy with the drugs.

Conditions in the area were moderately rough, with force four westerly winds and a swell hampering the search which was joined by a customs cutter and a Garda helicopter.

The Naval vessel, LE Orla, was dispatched from the northwest coast to assist in the operation at Dunlough Bay.

Officers closed off a road leading to the pier at Dun Lough Bay and seized three British-registered sports utility vehicles that were found in the area. Along with the drugs they were taken to Dublin for forensic examination.

Seamus Lynch, who has charge of the Revenue Commissioners’ customs enforcement operations in the south west, said, “We’ll be busy for another few days on this one. The revenue cutter is continuing to patrol the seas in search of any more drugs that might be there.”

He added that there was no doubt the dinghy used by the drug smugglers had collected the cocaine from a mother ship. “Whether it was a yacht, whether it was a fishing boat, whether it was a commercial ship we don’t know.”

Lynch said that given where the drug was intended to be landed the official theory was that the bulk of it was for use in Ireland. “That said, we have no information on where it was bound for. The product could be moved by road up through Ireland to the border and into the U.K.

“This is a huge find. Even if only 25% of it was destined for the Irish market it’s still a huge quantity coming into the Irish market. The cocaine problem is rife in Ireland, there’s no doubt about it.”

He explained that the nature of the remote and rugged west Cork coastline, adding up to 650 miles long with inlets and islands, made patrolling difficult.

“Ourselves and the Gardai and the Navy are trying to police it in conjunction with the local community through coast watch and drugs watch programs. But it’s an incredibly difficult job. We have finite resources and can only be in so many places at any given time.”