Ireland
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Men who bought West Cork trawler linked to cocaine haul 'hadn't a clue' about boats

A fisherman from Castletownbere who remembers seeing the men briefly on Friday said: “They hadn’t a clue.” 

The men, who were dressed in dark clothing, were taken out around the harbour by the owner of The Castlemore and brought to Dinish Island.

There, the boat’s owner, who has owned it since 2017, bought about €900 worth of safety equipment from local firm Swan Net Gundry.

This included an emergency life raft, an automatic release kit for the life raft and a set of emergency flares.

There is no suggestion the owner had any insight into the men's plans for the craft.

As the boat approached the pier at Dinish Island, the men were seen standing with their hands in their pockets at the back of the boat, while the owner was in the wheelhouse manoeuvring the boat.

'They barely lifted a finger'

“They barely lifted a finger,” the fisherman, who asked not to be named, said.

“They clearly weren’t crew because they made no effort to check to see if there were any fenders over the side to stop the boat being damaged as it hit the pier.

“It did hit the pier, but only very slightly.

“At one point the men, who I think were dressed in black, did come out of the stern area and help put the life raft on the shelter deck, but they didn’t seem to know what to do, or where to even put their feet.

At one point they were nearly tripping over ropes as they helped with the life raft.

"You could tell they didn't know much about boats and they didn't know much about the sea.

A helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard hovers above the stranded boat off the coast of Blackwater, Wexford.
A helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard hovers above the stranded boat off the coast of Blackwater, Wexford.

"You can just tell from the look of somebody and the way they behave on a boat how much or little experience they have and they didn't appear to have any at all.” 

The two men were shown how to manoeuvre the 15m fishing vessel for some of the afternoon, before they were brought back into the harbour where they stocked up with supplies of food.

As the vessel had not been used for more than two years, there was no emergency life raft as is required of vessels before they go out to sea.

Due to the way the life raft had to be attached to the boat’s shelter deck, it was necessary to bring the boat over to Dinish Island and have it put on there.

Something strange going on

Another local man, who asked not to be named, said local fishermen knew something strange was going on last week when they noticed a number of men turn up in workers' overalls on around Wednesday.

He said: “They were hanging around the harbour area in overalls but none of us had ever seen them before and we couldn’t figure out what job they were working on.

“They were wearing baseball caps and bright-coloured bibs and appearing as if they were working in the harbour.

Little did we even dream for one second that they were actually undercover gardaí, which is what we assume they were because as soon as the trawler left, most of the strangers left too.” 

The men who bought the boat, one of whom is understood to be eastern European, are understood to have left Castletownbere on Friday evening.

It is understood their transponder was not switched on for all of their journey from Castletownbere to where they ran aground off Blackwater, 12km north of Rosslare Harbour, before midnight on Sunday night.

Distress call

The Irish Coast Guard received a distress call from the vessel at about 10pm.

A rescue operation that lasted several hours led to the rescue of the two men in a multi-agency exercise involving the Coastguard, the RNLI, gardaí, and the navy.

The two men were winched from the trawler onto a naval vessel and taken to safety.

It has since emerged their movements were being monitored before they ran aground.

The two men are among three currently in custody in connection with the investigation into the drug smuggling activities of the MV Matthew.