Three men are being quizzed on suspicion of drug trafficking and an impounded yacht is being searched under armed guard following a multi-agency intelligence-led operation off the coast.
Garda forensic experts were combing the French-flagged Sun Magic 44-type yacht at Castlepark Marina in Kinsale, Co Cork, last night, where it remained under armed guard alongside a Customs cutter.
It is understood that no drugs have been found so far, but the finger-tip search is ongoing and could take some time.
It is also understood that data from navigational equipment and communications devices found on board will play a key role in the investigation.
The period of detention of the three men who were arrested on board as it sailed off the southwest coast was also extended last night.
They are being detained in Bandon Garda Station under the provisions of Section 2 of the Drugs Trafficking Act and can be held for up to seven days.
The yacht was intercepted early yesterday morning by a Irish Naval Service vessel, the LE Eithne, off the southwest coast.
It is understood that it had sailed across the Atlantic from South America.
It is also understood that the vessel had been under surveillance for some time as part of an operation involving gardaí, Revenue Customs, the Irish naval service, and the Irish air corps.
The vessel was tracked and monitored by an Irish air corps Casa aircraft as it neared the Irish coast.
It provided crucial information as the LÉ Eithne closed in, before an armed boarding party was dispatched to board the suspect vessel.
They arrested three men on board before taking control of the vessel and sailing it under escort into Kinsale Harbour, where it was tied up alongside the Revenue Customs cutter Faire.
Meanwhile, the LÉ Eithne remained off Kinsale, guarding the harbour.
A security source said the entire operation had a high level of “operational security”.
A statement from Revenue confirmed its officers’ involvement in the operation but declined to comment further for operational reasons.
However, chief superintendent Con Cadogan described the operation as “ongoing and fluid” and said that, as well as searches of the vessel, searches on land were also taking place.
He said the entire investigation will take some time.