Ireland
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Air Corps monitoring trawler suspected of trafficking €140m off Wexford

An Air Corps helicopter is now monitoring the trawler caught on a sandbank off the Wexford coast, suspected of trafficking up to €140m of cocaine through Irish waters.

Two men were winched off the boat yesterday and were arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling but authorities have not yet boarded the vessel.

A helicopter arrived at the stranded trawler in recent minutes and is currently carrying out “oversight”.

It is understood that the trawler is unmanned but with weather warnings hitting Ireland in the coming hours, authorities are in a race against time to board the vessel and inspect it.

The Air Corps helicopter may now be used to winch a crew down onto the trawler, or to drop divers into the sea who can then try to board the vessel, a source said.

It is considered too dangerous in current weather conditions and with shifting sandbanks to bring another vessel alongside the trawler, a source said.

Members of the Army Ranger Wing (ARW), the Special Operations wing of the Irish Defence Forces, may be winched onto the vessel if a navy crew cannot board the vessel in current weather conditions, a source said.

“The pressure is on them,” a source said.

“At the moment it’s overwatch. If the navy can’t board it then they’re looking at putting out some other element to board it –like the ARW.

“Or they may have to drop divers in the water.”

'Mother ship'

Two men were winched off the boat yesterday and were arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling.

The vessel is suspected of having met up with another vessel off the southern coast after leaving Castletownbere on Friday.

The Castlemore, which was sold last week by a Castletownbere-based fisherman, should have reached Wexford in around 20 hours. However, despite leaving Castletownbere at around midday on Friday, it did not arrive off Wexford until at least 48 hours later.

As a result, it is believed that the trawler travelled out to sea to meet up with a “mother ship”, thought to have travelled across the Atlantic with a cargo of cocaine on board.

A helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard hovers above a stranded boat off the coast of Blackwater, Wexford. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard hovers above a stranded boat off the coast of Blackwater, Wexford. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The boat had been tied to the pier in Castletownbere for many months, having not been used by its owner, who had been trying to sell it.

One source said: “To go to Wexford from here would take about 20 hours on her. Where were they in the meantime? There are a lot of hours missing, so how far out to sea did they go?” 

The source added that the trawler is medium in size and did not have to have a tracker on it.

It is understood another boat in a different part of the country had first been considered by the gang behind the enterprise, before the Castlemore was purchased.

On dry land, people stood on beaches and headlands with binoculars, straining for a view of the sand-banked boat, or for bales of cocaine which some speculate may have been thrown overboard.