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'Let’s go get my coke!': People descend on Wexford beach on cocaine hunt after ship seized

Binoculars swung around necks as curious — and hopeful — groups of people took to Wexford’s beaches and headlands, hunting for errant cocaine bales from a stranded boat. 

And whispers that the boat's rumoured cargo — bales of cocaine potentially worth many millions of black market euro — had been dumped in the sea were heard by many.

On Ballyconnigar beach, locals stood staring out to sea through binoculars as TV cameras recorded news clips metres from waves that crashed with increasing exuberance as Storm Agnes drew closer.

A helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard hovers above a stranded boat off the coast of Blackwater, Wexford. A major multi-agency operation is underway off the coast of Wexford after a boat ran aground. 
A helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard hovers above a stranded boat off the coast of Blackwater, Wexford. A major multi-agency operation is underway off the coast of Wexford after a boat ran aground. 

Meanwhile off the coast of Cork, ‘the mothership’ was boarded at gunpoint by armed gardaí and the Defence Forces in what may become a historic investigation and iconic disruption of transnational, multimillion-euro drug smuggling.

It is understood that this ‘mothership’ crossed the Atlantic, possibly loaded with many millions of euro  worth of cocaine which it would decant to smaller vessels — such as the one currently stranded off the Wexford coast — to deliver to various European markets.

Some Wexford locals hoped to skip that illegal European leg of the market, known to fund murder, mayhem, and destruction, and instead go straight to source, scouring the sea for bales.

Local fisherman Michael Redmond said: 

Everyone’s out looking. The beaches are twice as busy as they usually are. It’s a bit of excitement in the area.

“There were plenty of helicopters flying around the past two days. 

"They lifted two people up from the trawler, but they didn’t even bring them into the helicopter, they brought them over and put them on the navy boat.

“They were landing in Castlebridge football pitch, picking up more army fellas. There was the coastguard helicopter and the army helicopter."

As the winds picked up so did the numbers coming to Ballyconnigar beach.

Army Rangers on board the MV Matthew in Passage West, Cork, after it had been seized by authorities and moved to the Port of Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Army Rangers on board the MV Matthew in Passage West, Cork, after it had been seized by authorities and moved to the Port of Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

“Let’s go get my coke!” one young man yelled as he got out of a car and joined a group that had already arrived.

The loot may have changed since Wexford’s historic pirating days but the genes live on.

This area in Wexford is known for shipwrecks, Mr Redmond said, with people of the Blackwater area known historically for prolific pirating.

According to local lore, donkeys would be stationed on the cliffs with lights to lure unsuspecting boats into the treacherous sandbanks below — the same sandbank on which the trawler got caught on Sunday night.

Local man Richard Cullinan was woken by a helicopter late on Sunday night as the men were winched to safety.

“It started at about 11.30pm on Sunday night and went on until about 1.30am and then the helicopters went away — they must have gone away for fuel — and came back at about 3.30am,” Mr Cullinan said.

On a headland, accessible only by a winding, muddy path, which should have sight of the boat, not even binoculars could pick it out.

 The MV Matthew in Passage West, Cork as it makes its way to berth at the former IFI plant at Marino Point in the Port of Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
The MV Matthew in Passage West, Cork as it makes its way to berth at the former IFI plant at Marino Point in the Port of Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

Mr Cullinan watched live on shipping app, MyShipTracking.com, wondering if tugboats leaving nearby Arklow were destined for the doomed boat.

Whatever about bales, there was plenty of bass in that sea, his friend Anthony Beaver, whose business Alize Fish supplies hungry mouths in Greystone’s Beach House on Thursdays, said.

Back on Ballyconnigar, one woman sat with a dog on her lap, binoculars strained on the sea, from the warmth of her car.

A couple sipped from wine glasses in their campervan as they watched the unusually animated activity on the windswept late September day.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Seán Moynihan, who is originally from Kerry but who lived locally in Wexford for some 50 years.

People are watching for any packages floating in the sea. I used to fish around here. I can’t remember anything like this happening in the recent past here.

In nearby Blackwater village, some locals looked puzzled by questions about the stranded trawler and its suspected multi-million euro cargo of cocaine.

“I’ve heard nothing about it,” one local said, bemused.