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Drug smuggler involved in €400m cocaine haul off Cork coast appeals conviction

Christopher Wiggins maintains the boat ‘Dances with Waves’ was not in Irish territorial waters.

Drugs raid finds 403m of cocaine The luxury yacht Dances with Waves which was seized off the west coast of Ireland. PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

A MAN INVOLVED in a drugs haul of more than €400 million appealed his conviction in the Court of Appeal today.

The cocaine shipment was found on the ’Dances with Waves’ vessel 200km off the coast of Cork in November 2008.

The 1.5 tonnes of cocaine originated from Venezuela but was earmarked for sale in the UK.

Plot foiled 

The plot was foiled by Irish authorities – including gardaí, the Revenue and the Naval Service – after they intercepted the yacht 172 miles south west of Mizen Head off the west coast of Ireland.

Philip Doo and Christopher Wiggins were later sentenced to 10 years each for their role in the plot at Cork Circuit Criminal Court in May 2009.

Christopher Wiggins was in the Criminal Courts of Justice today, ready to proceed with his appeal.

Philip Doo, the skipper of the vessel, who had also lodged a motion for appeal, withdrew his appeal this morning.

Wiggins, who was defending himself in court today, made a number of arguments to the three judge Court of Appeal.

Drugs raid finds 403m of cocaine Armed Gardai secure Castletown Bere Pier in Co. Cork as the luxury yacht Dances with Waves is seized. PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Firstly, he argued the ship was in the Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) – a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has special regulation in terms of jurisdiction.

Wiggins argued that the ship was in this zone, and therefore not in Irish jurisdiction.

He also said their ship was not registered to any jurisdiction. While a British flag was displayed, it was not registered with UK authorities.

Irish waters 

“Dances with Waves never entered Irish territorial waters so domestic legislation should not apply… the argument of the state is irrelevant,” said Wiggins.

Wiggins also argued two of the charges and the sentencing for each contradicted each other. One charge carries a maximum seven-year sentence, while another charge carries a minimum of ten years to life.

The President of the Court of Appeal, Sean Ryan, attempted to clarify the grounds for Wiggins’s appeal. He said the convicted man pleaded pleaded guilty on the legal advice presented to him at the time, but which he now believes was incorrect.

Wiggins said he was mistaken because he was not made aware of the law.

Drugs raid finds £403m of cocaine PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Addressing the three judges, he said that at the time he was under the impression the Irish Navy could board a ship, but he said that as they were in the EEZ they were not permitted to.

He argued that the proper procedures for boarding the ship were not carried out – insofar as he says the registration of the ship is to be determined before boarding, which he claims was not.

Boarding ship 

“You cannot board to find out the registration,” said Wiggins, who argued the navy only contacted the UK authorities about the registration after the boarding.

Justice Ryan argued that this was all speculation before the court, as there is no evidence to that fact. However, Wiggins claimed it is included in the book of evidence.

Justice Ryan said that perhaps the court would have said it was unlawful or perhaps they would not, had they heard the evidence, but it was not presented as evidence.

Wiggins said he assumed his legal team would have made the best case for their client, but said he could not argue the point then as “I did not know this”.

The prosecution argued that under the law, there is a right for authorities to visit an unregistered ship. If suspicion is unfounded then the owners are entitled to compensation for loss or damage to their business.

Drugs raid finds £403m of cocaine PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“But it was founded here,” said the prosecution, maintaining it was not an illegal boarding.

Addressing the court about the multiple charges, the prosecution said the DPP can bring all charges, and it is not a case of the DPP having to choose just one.

The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea was also discussed in court.

Wiggins argued that visits on board are not permitted unless the ship is engaged in piracy; slave trade; unauthorised broadcasting or is without nationality.

He told the court that they flew the British flag on the ship, despite it not being registered in the UK. “How is it that they knew the ship was without nationality?” he asked, adding: “The boarding was not justified.”

“Your argument is that article 110 does not apply in the EEZ,” said the Justice Ryan. He pointed out Article 58 in section 2 which states that it does.

“That is then the end of your point,” said the judge, adding: “It puts a tin hat on that.” Wiggins conceded.

The three judge court said they would reserve their judgement on the case and would deliver it in due course.

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