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Over two tonnes of cocaine worth €157m recovered from stormed cargo ship off Cork

More than two tonnes of cocaine have so far been recovered from the cargo tanker that was dramatically stormed off the coast of Cork yesterday, the Irish Examiner understands.

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 from the Organised and Serious Crime Unit said, that while the value of the seized drugs was assessed as €157m upon seizure, the value could have increased depending on what would have happened had it entered other European markets.

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” at a later date.

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

The seizure is the biggest-ever haul of cocaine 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.

Speaking at a media briefing in Dublin on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Irish police service An Garda Siochana said: “This is the largest drug seizure in the history of the State.” 

Mr Kelly described the action as “hugely significant”.

He said: “It shows our unrelenting determination to disrupt and dismantle networks, which are determined to bring drugs into our country.

“These groups are transnational groups. They are working all across the world and, because of that, we need to work with our international partners.” 

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

Commander Tony Geraghty, fleet operations officer of the Irish Naval Service, said warning shots were fired at the cargo vessel prior to the boarding operation.

“The merchant ship refused to follow the instructions of our own ship.

“So this was prior to the insertion of the Army Ranger Wing.

“There was an escalated use of force used to compel the vessel to follow the instructions of the ship’s captain.” He said a “great deal skill” was demonstrated by the Army Ranger Wing and helicopter pilot during high winds.

Asked if they believed any cocaine had left the ship before the insertion, Assistant Commissioner Kelly said he was not able to comment on that as three people were in custody.

He added the crew members that were onboard the cargo ship will be interviewed.

Three arrests have been made so far.

“Everyone on that ship we will be interviewed. There may or may not be further arrests.

“We need to get to the exact understanding of everyone’s role on that ship.”