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The cargo ship being escorted into Cork Harbour. Niall O'Connor
Special Forces

Over €100m worth of drugs on board cargo ship seized by Army Ranger Wing off Irish coast

The boarding is part of the broader investigation in to the beaching of a trawler off Wexford.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Sep 2023

MORE THAN €100 million worth of drugs has been found aboard a boat boarded by the army off the coast of Wexford, in a search that could last weeks.

The Journal understands that more than two tonnes of suspected cocaine has been found so far.

Elite Army Ranger Wing soldiers took control of the ship off the Cork/Waterford coast as part of an investigation linked to the stricken fishing boat off Wexford. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Independent Waterford TD and former Army Ranger Cathal Berry described it as “an operation of international significance”.

“Obviously it’s a very kinetic operation, but it’s well within the comfort zone of the Army Ranger Wing,” he said.

“They are the only outfit in the State that have the expertise that can carry out fast roping on a moving vessel at night or during the day.”

The latest statement from gardaí said that three arrests – men aged 60, 50 and 31 – have been made.

Commending the army’s bravery, Tánaiste Micheál told Newstalk Breakfast this morning that the State will continue to invest in the forces.

He said that while investment in significant resources has been successful, they need to look at making the army more appealing to young people and more rewarding to recruits.

The Journal confirmed that warning shots were fired yesterday by the crew of a naval vessel as the container ship was allegedly refusing to stop. The machine gun blasts were sent into the water around the vessel in the moments before the ARW fastroped from an Air Corps helicopter onto the deck.  

The ship was escorted into Cork Harbour by the Irish Naval Service ship LÉ William Butler Yeats and was now being brought in by two Naval RHIBs as well as a tugboat at either end. 

The Journal had spotted a number of off duty navy personnel gathered in nearby Cobh to watch the operation come to a conclusion.

The operation was launched as they acted on intelligence they had received, sources said. 

The Rangers boarded the cargo ship at sea south of Waterford and sources have said it is linked to an international investigation into drug smuggling.

The Defence Forces said last night that the ARW operators fast roped from helicopters onto the cargo ship and secured the bridge. The Journal has previously observed such an operation during an exercise off the Irish coast. 

The team that carried out the mission are drawn from the Army Ranger Wing’s Maritime Task unit. The members are drawn from the Naval Service, Air Corps and Army and serve full time at their base in the Curragh.

The commandos assisted by colleagues in the Naval Service and Air Corps boarded the vessel in heavy seas in what is known as “an opposed boarding” operation. 

The cargo ship was en route to Cork from Willemstad, Curacao – a Dutch protectorate off the South American coast. 

A major security operation has been underway since Sunday after a fishing trawler ran aground off the coast of Wexford, with authorities now attempting to board it to determine whether drugs are on board.

So far, weather has been hampering those attempts. Two people were winched from the deck of that vessel and have been detained for questioning by gardaí.

This latest development relates to a larger cargo ship but the two incidents are believed to be linked. 

a-helicopter-from-the-irish-coast-guard-hovers-above-a-stranded-boat-off-the-coast-of-blackwater-wexford-a-major-multi-agency-operation-is-underway-off-the-coast-of-wexford-after-a-boat-ran-aground A helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard hovers above the stranded fishing trawler off the coast of Blackwater, Wexford. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In a comment to the Joint Oireachtas on Defence and Foreign Affairs Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces Seán Clancy said the operation had been in the planning phase for a number of weeks.

In a statement tonight he added: “I would like to personally commended the courage, discipline and professionalism of all personnel involved in this successful operation.

This Joint and multiagency operation demonstrates the interoperability of Óglaigh na hÉireann, underlining the unique capability that we bring to the defence of the State.

“The significant intelligence led planning by the Joint Task Force enabled the coordination and execution of this complex multiagency operation. This operation demonstrated the importance of all services of the Defence Forces and their ability to operate in the most challenging of conditions”.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin praised the efforts of the agencies involved in the operation.

“I commend all involved in this multi-agency operation, and the bravery of the members of the Defence Forces, our Naval Service and Army Ranger Wing.

“I have remained in regular contact with the Defence Forces Chief of Staff throughout the operation, and I pay tribute to the close cooperation between the Defence Forces, Naval Service, An Garda Síochána, and Revenue officials.”

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has aso commended the efforts of all those involved in the operation. 

military-personnel-onboard-a-cargo-vessel-named-mv-matthew-whilst-its-escorted-into-cobh-in-cork-by-the-irish-navy-after-a-significant-quantity-of-suspected-drugs-were-found-onboard-three-men-have-b Military personnel onboard the cargo vessel. PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

“This operation has resulted in the detention of a bulk cargo vessel originating from Latin America with a significant volume of drugs on-board, which would have no doubt been destined for Irish and European markets. It will represent a blow to the organised crime gangs involved in drug distribution internationally,” she said.

“It is true testament to the importance and strength of interagency co-operation domestically, but also with our law enforcement partners internationally, including MAOC-N, the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) and French customs service DNRED all of which supported this operation.

“It once again shows the success of An Garda Síochána in building coalitions to tackle transnational crime.”

She said that tackling organised crime is a key priority for Government and is central to building safer, stronger communities and thanked An Garda Síochána and their partners for the operation. 

This is a developing story – we will update as we get information.

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