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Drug seizure worth €157m on ship off Cork coast the ‘largest in the history of the State’

Over 2.25 tonnes of cocaine was seized off the coast of Ireland yesterday, worth at least €157m but potentially worth a lot more in terms of its street value, An Garda Síochána has confirmed.

While the search of the huge Panamanian vessel is continuing, an estimated 2.2 tonnes of cocaine have been found on board the MV Matthew.

Smugglers on board the ship were attempting to burn part of this huge consignment as elite soldiers from the Army Ranger Wing descended from an Air Corps helicopter on to the deck.

Assistant Commissioner Justin Kelly said today that it is the largest drug seizure in the history of the State and exceeds the two previous records – of around 1.5 tonnes – made in 2007 and 2008 off the Cork coast.

“It shows our relenting determination to disrupt and dismantle networks which are determined to bring drugs into our country,” he said.

At a joint press conference along with Revenue and Defence Forces officials this morning, details were provided of the landmark operation which saw a large tanker dramatically stormed by elite soldiers from the Army Ranger Wing who descended from an Air Corps helicopter onto the deck.

While the value was pegged at €157m, Assistant Commissioner Kelly said that the drugs could be cut down further to increase its value.

“It could be a wide variety of increased values around that,” he said.

Assistant Garda Commissioner Justin Kelly (M) said that this is the largest seizure in the history of the state. With him are Director General Operations, Revenue and Customs Gerry Harrahill (L) and Fleet Operations Commander of the irish Naval Service Tony Geraghty. Picture: Sam Boal/© RollingNews.ie
Assistant Garda Commissioner Justin Kelly (M) said that this is the largest seizure in the history of the state. With him are Director General Operations, Revenue and Customs Gerry Harrahill (L) and Fleet Operations Commander of the irish Naval Service Tony Geraghty. Picture: Sam Boal/© RollingNews.ie

Revenue Commissioner and the director general of customs Gerry Harrahill said the value could be trebled based on what the organised crime gang had intended to “cut it down” with at a later date.

Mr Harrahill said it was too early to give a figure for the purity of the cocaine.

Commander Tony Geraghty, fleet operations officer for the Irish Naval Service, said it was an “extremely complex day from a military perspective”.

He confirmed that “warning shots” were fired when the MV Matthew failed to adhere to instructions issued. Commander Geraghty said it was “very difficult” to get the boarding party on board with the weather playing a major factor, but that the Army Ranger Wing team enlisted are “as good as anyone in the world”.

He said there is currently “no evidence” that people on board the ship were armed.

Military personnel onboard a cargo vessel named MV Matthew whilst it's escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy after a "significant quantity" of suspected drugs were found onboard. Three men have been arrested on suspicion of organised crime offences. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Military personnel onboard a cargo vessel named MV Matthew whilst it's escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy after a "significant quantity" of suspected drugs were found onboard. Three men have been arrested on suspicion of organised crime offences. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Assistant Commissioner Kelly said he couldn’t overemphasise the disruption this would cause to the organised criminal group behind it and praised all the teams who “worked long hours in difficult conditions to get this end result”.

When Ireland was called upon to take action in situations such as this, the Irish Navy “has never been found short when there’s an operation to be mounted” in the view of the worldwide anti-drugs surveillance centre MAOC(N), he said.

He said that it was “too early” to talk about the crew that was onboard the vessel but added that “interviews are ongoing”.

While the value was pegged at €157m, Assistant Commissioner Kelly said that the drugs could be cut down further to increase its value.

“It could be a wide variety of increased values around that,” he said.

 Crew members on the impounded MV Matthew berthed at Marino Point, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Crew members on the impounded MV Matthew berthed at Marino Point, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

Assistant Commissioner Kelly said that not all of the drugs on the vessel were destined for Ireland but that, given the size of the shipment of cocaine, it would involve a number of organised crime groups coming together.

He wouldn’t be drawn on specific criminal groups in Ireland that may have been involved in this operation but said the drugs shipment appeared to have originated from a “murderous” South American cartel.

“A shipment like this into Europe, partly destined for the Irish market, we know that the organised crime group behind this comprised of a number of different elements across Europe,” he said.

The senior garda added that there had been major seizures in many parts of Europe, with a “glut of cocaine on the market” at present.

He said that Europe is now the biggest market for cocaine and it is “inevitable” that organised criminal groups will seek to leverage that.

He added it was “inevitable” we may see other large-scale shipments like this.