'Some idiot put diesel in rib's petrol engine and it ended up on the rocks'

SOME "idiot" put diesel instead of petrol into the powerful engines on the rib boat found at the scene of the biggest drugs seizure in the history of the state, a jury was told.

The trial yesterday heard extensive evidence in relation to the semi-submerged boat found in Dunlough Bay in west Cork on July 2 last year.

Cross-examining the prosecution expert who examined the boat, defence counsel Blaise O'Carroll said: "Some idiot put diesel into it when he should have put petrol in it and the engine lost its power and ended up on rocks."

Paddy O'Connor, recently retired from the Irish Naval Service and an expert in rigid inflatable boats, agreed with this proposition.

Mr O'Connor also compared the replacement of the boat's original single engine with two powerful 200-horsepower engines with the actions of a boy racer.

Mr O'Carroll put it to Mr O'Connor that someone had put engines on the boat without regard to the manufacturers. He replied: "Boy racers will be boy racers."

Three Englishmen, Perry Wharrie, aged 48, of 60 Pyrles Lane, Essex, England; Joseph Daly, aged 41 from 9 Carrisbrook Avenue, Bexley, Kent; and Martin Wanden, aged 45, of no fixed abode, all deny the charges of possessing cocaine, possessing it with intent to sell or supply, and having it for sale or supply when its street value exceeded 13,000 on July 2, 2007, at Dunlough Bay, Mizen, Goleen, Co Cork.

The first evidence heard in relation to the rib was from Colm Harrington who was asked by Customs and Excise to salvage the semi-submerged rib from the bay.

Mr Harrington, who operates a salvage company, towed the craft to Castletownbere as the waters at Dunlough Bay were so choppy that it was not possible to salvage it there.

He said that a crane was used to lift the 7.8 metre rib out of the water in Castletownbere and put it onto the back of a truck under spotlights at 2am on the morning of July 3.

Mr Harrington gave evidence that he told Paddy O'Sullivan, senior Customs and Excise officer, he had seen the particular rib before. He had been in England in mid-June last year at the Sea Works exhibition and on his way back he saw the particular rib in the car park of the Pembroke car ferry at 3am on the Friday morning.

"I saw a rib in the car park. I thought it was unusual to see such big engines on it. I passed the remark, 'this fella must be in an awful hurry with such big engines'."

He also observed at the time that the vehicle towing the rib and trailer was what he described as a hippy-type van which he thought was unusual as he would have expected a fancy kind of 4x4 to be pulling a craft like that.

Mr Harrington said he would have expected the owner of the van to come out to him when he was looking at the boat as he said people would normally do so when they would see someone taking an interest in their boat.

Paddy O'Connor said that when he inspected the rib at Bandon Garda station he saw an identification plate from a South African manufacturer.

"From the back right to the front on the right hand side there were 26 perforations of the hull and flotation/buoyancy chambers."

Mr O'Connor said that some of the holes were large enough to put one's fist through and that the floatation chambers were totally compromised on one side but partly functioning on the other side, resulting in the boat being semi-submerged.

He took note of rock rash to the hull of the boat, the term used to describe rock damage to a craft.

The expert found during his survey that several seats had been unscrewed from the boat. He said there was evidence that they had been unscrewed rather than torn out in the course of the damage at sea.

"I thought the engines were particularly big for the craft. The original engine had been removed and these two larger engines had been retro-fitted afterwards."

Mr O'Carroll SC asked: "Were these engines put on by someone who was foolhardy?"

Mr O'Connor agreed and said: "They were excessively powerful for that craft both weight-wise and horsepower-wise."

Asked what he thought happened on July 2, 2007, with the rib, Mr O'Connor said: "It (the fuel) was contaminated with diesel which rendered the boat incapable of going anywhere and it ended up on the rocks and sustained damage."

In a light moment during the trial yesterday, customs officer Andrew Ryan, described the retrieval of a large white seat at Dunlough Bay.

"We were excited about it at the time because we thought it was a bale of cocaine," he said.

As the jurors laughed, Judge Sen Donnabhin remarked: "I am glad to hear what excites the Customs and Excise."

The case continues.


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