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Large quantity of suspected drugs found on board container vessel off Cork coast

A significant quantity of suspected drugs have been found onboard a large container vessel that was impounded in Cork on Tuesday.

Gardaí and members of the Defence Forces impounded the vessel off the Cork coast just 24 hours after it emerged a trawler that was being monitored on suspicion it was carrying drugs had run aground off the Wexford coast on Sunday night.

Gardaí suspect that the container vessel, which is currently under escort by Naval Ship to an Irish port, may have been the mother ship that rendezvoused with a trawler off the south east coast over the weekend and that a consignment of cocaine was transferred to the trawler before it ran aground on a sandbank off Wexford late on Sunday night.

The trawler, named the Castlemore, left Castletownbere in west Cork on Friday night just hours after it was purchased by an unknown buyer before becoming grounded off the Wexford coast on Sunday night.

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Two men, believed to be from the UK and Eastern European, were rescued from the trawler in poor weather. They remained in custody on Tuesday at Wexford Garda Station after being arrested by gardaí on suspicion of drug smuggling.

The Naval Service and Air Corps were assisting in searching for debris or cargo - possibly bales of drugs - from the stricken trawler, though bad weather was hampering the operation.

Meanwhile, the shipping container left the southern Caribbean on August 18th but is understood to have lost power off the south coast over the weekend and notified the Irish Coast Guard that it was without engines on Sunday.

An Irish Coast Guard helicopter carried out a medical evacuation of the shipping container vessel off the Waterford coast around 9pm on Monday night after a crew member on board was reported to have taken ill.

It is understood that a team of Rangers boarded the Panamanian registered bulk carrier south of Ballycotton in East Cork and the vessel is now headed for Cork Harbour where it is expected to be searched by gardaí and customs officers.

It is unclear what other ports that the cargo ship was due to call to after leaving Williamstad but marine sources say it appears to have gone off the radar for a time as it should only have taken eight to ten days to cross the Atlantic rather than over a month.

While only a search of the trawler could confirm or rule out the presence of drugs on the vessel, the approaching Storm Agnes may delay for that several days. Garda sources said there was also concern the boat would be lost in the stormy conditions.

It is understood that the LE William Butler Yeats had been tracking the suspect trawler as part of a Garda-led operation and members of the Garda National Drugs Unit were also on the Naval vessel at the time. The Army Ranger Wing special forces were deployed to help secure the evidence and the vessel.

While the surveillance of the vessel since the weekend involved the Garda and the Naval Service, the intelligence sharing operation that resulted in the trawler being tracked involved an international component. That level of cooperation is common when international vessels suspected of trafficking drugs, at times in tens of millions or even above €100 million, are being monitored for long periods.