West Cork drop-off point was seen as easy route into Britain by traffickers

The West Cork coastline has long been a favourite drop-off point for drugs traffickers as they’ve seen it as an easy ‘back-door route’ into Britain.

West Cork drop-off point was seen as easy route into Britain by traffickers

However, they may be less keen to use it again after the latest seizure of cocaine following a joint operation by the Naval Service, Garda and Customs.

To date, in co-operation with Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC), based in Lisbon, they have now seized €1.088bn in cocaine off the coast.

The LÉ Niamh left port last week to shadow the yacht, Marayabella, as it approached Irish waters and LÉ Roisín joined the mission on Monday.

The whole operation was conducted by the Joint Task Force (JTF) comprising the Revenue Customs Service, Naval Service and Garda.

In a statement, the JTF said that after “positively identifying” the target following surveillance a decision was made “at night and during challenging conditions” to send in an armed navy boarding party to seize the vessel.

After securing it, gardaí and customs officers were also transferred onboard.

The JTF said the operation was based on intelligence provided by the UK National Crime Agency and French customs service DNRED.

The cocaine will be unloaded today and taken to the state laboratory where its purity will be tested.

The provisional estimate of its street value has been set at €88m.

Although there is no doubt that major shipments have passed through unnoticed since the 1980s, there have been some notable successes by the Irish security services.

The latest €88m seizure is the third major shipment intercepted on its way into this country.

The navy made headlines around the world in 2008 when it led one of the largest and most daring drugs seizures ever made in the Atlantic, recovering an estimated €600m worth of cocaine from a yacht, and foiling a major international smuggling operation.

The LÉ Niamh, under Lieutenant Commander Martin Brett, spearheaded the 30-hour mission, code-named Operation Seabight. He ordered the deployment of an armed boarding party, which, under cover of darkness, took to powerful high-speed ribs, and braved a heavy swell and 270km/h winds to board the Dances with Waves off Mizen Head.

The vessel, with three men on board, was escorted to Castletownbere where 75 bales of cocaine were later removed, with a street value of approximately €600m. It was the largest drug seizure in the history of the State.

Naval officers and gardaí involved in the operation provided vital evidence at a trial in England in 2012, which led to the jailing for 28 years of John Alan Brooks, an Englishman who lived in Spain and was, at the time, considered to be one of the main drug trafficking facilitators in Western Europe.

They included now retired Commander Eugene Ryan and Detective Sergeant Fergal Foley. who were both honoured in Britain for their role in preventing drug importation.

That entire mission was co-ordinated by the Irish Joint Task Force (JTF) on Drug Interdiction from naval HQ in Haulbowline, Co Cork, which worked closely with the Lisbon-based taskforce, the Maritime Analysis and Operation Centre — Narcotics (MAOC-N).

Just months earlier, naval officers were involved in the recovery of an estimated €400m of cocaine from the waters at Dunlough Bay, off Mizen Head, in Co Cork.

That drug-running operation failed because one of the smugglers put petrol in the diesel engine of a rib which was being used to transport the drugs from a ‘mother-ship’ to the shore.

The Irish Naval Service trains regularly for these kinds of anti-nacrotics missions — its most recent exercise was off Cork in June.

Some of the tasks involved in that week-long training exercise included a scenario-based maritime interdiction operation, which prepares armed naval teams for counter-narcotics and armed boardings at sea.

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