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Customs and Excise boat RCC Faire. Alamy Stock Photo

Sixth man arrested in connection with €21m drugs seizure on board ship in Limerick

The seizure was made on board the Maltese-registered Verila, which has been detained since Tuesday when it arrived in port.

LAST UPDATE | 22 Dec 2023

A SIXTH MAN has been arrested in relation to an alleged multi-million euro cocaine seizure on board a bulk carrier cargo ship in Foynes, Co Limerick. 

It comes after gardaí arrested five men, aged 50, 46, 44, 41 and 35 years, in connection with the seizure this morning. 

The five men were all taken from the ship, the Maltese-registered Verila, which has been detained under armed garda watch since Tuesday when it arrived in port. 

The sixth man is aged 32. All of the men are being detained at garda stations in the Limerick division.

All of the men have been arrested for the offence of importation of controlled drugs contrary to Section 15(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977/84 as amended by Section 82 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006.

This carries a mandatory jail term if the consignment is worth more than €13,000.

It is understood that the men are being detained under a provision that allows gardaí to question the suspects for a maximum of seven days. 

The seizure is thought to be in the region of €21 million and weighs 300kgs. It is understood that Customs were expecting a larger haul possibly a tonne when they raided the vessel.

The Journal has learned that suspicions are that the drugs are believed to be from a South American cartel with links to European drugs gangs.

Sources said that the drugs were ready to be thrown overboard and had GPS trackers on them. 

It is understood that the ship’s crew is made up of Bulgarian and Ukrainian nationals however Gardaí and Customs officers are examining the origin of the crew. 

The bulk carrier is carrying a consignment of grain – while the ship’s entry on the Marine Traffic system said it came from Montreal sources have said it is suspected the ship took a circuitous route to Ireland.  

The alleged consignment was found in plastic wrapped bales, linked with ropes and life jackets attached set to be thrown overboard – they were found in a room near the accommodation block on the vessel. 

drugs foynes The drugs consignment in a garda issued photograph. Garda Press Office Garda Press Office

Revenue Customs boarded the ship on its arrival in Foynes earlier this week and found the drugs. It is understood that they had received a tip off from international drugs interdiction agencies including Maritime Analysis Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) in Lisbon, Portugal.

“The search of the vessel which is being led by officials from Revenue Customs Service is ongoing, at this time. Investigations ongoing,” a source said. 

The incident is the latest in which drugs have been found on board a cargo vessel following the huge haul on board the MV Matthew which was a MAOC-N investigation also.

Another seizure was made at an airport recently on a flight that arrived into Ireland using information provided by MAOC-N.   

With reporting by Jane Moore