Navy tracking system to crack down on drugs smuggling

A SOPHISTICATED new €1.4 million vessel tracking system for the Naval Service is expected to boost the surveillance of drug smuggling ships.

The use of the Recognised Maritime Picture (RMP) will see patrolling naval vessels respond quicker to suspect ships approaching the Irish coastline.

The advanced computerised set-up will bring together on one system satellite images, long range tracking technology as well as the already standard automatic identification systems for vessels.

Once in operation, data on vessels, including their location, speed and direction, will be fed into the RMP system through land-based radar as well as satellite systems.

A naval spokesman added: “It’s a system of systems. It will all be collated and come under one computer display. It will help reduce our response time to a situation.”

Recent high-profile seizures involving the Irish navy have netted over €1.3 billion in drugs destined for Irish shores.

Operation Seabight in late 2008 – which also involved gardaí and Revenue – foiled a €700 million cocaine smuggling operation.

Up to 75 bales of cocaine were removed from the yacht Dances With Waves at Castletownbere, Co Cork, after it was seized 290km off the south-west coast of Ireland. It was the biggest drug seizure ever in the state.

Months earlier, naval officers were involved in the seizure of €600m in cocaine at Dunlough Bay, off Mizen Head, Co Cork.

Meanwhile, initial use of the new RMP tracking system for vessels is expected to be implemented by the year end, the naval service said.

It is anticipated the system, which will also eliminate “innocent” or non-suspect ships on naval patrol screens, will be fully functional within five years.

The naval service has a limited use of satellite systems and long range tracking of vessels and relies in part on automatic identification systems (AIS) for ships.

Using AIS though only allows the navy to track a vessel once it is within 32km of shore or another ship. The spokesman said: “It could be the difference between a vessel squeezing through the net or it being caught with the new system.”

When the system is fully up and running it will also give anti-drug smuggling forces a “real time” awareness of vessels in Irish waters.

Current tracking systems used to monitor the movement of fishing vessels take two hours to be fed to naval patrol ships.

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