Capsized Smugglers Lose £70m Of Cocaine

An English drug trafficking syndicate is thought to have lost more than £70m-worth of cocaine after an overladen dinghy carrying packages ashore capsized in rough seas off south-west Ireland.

An international hunt is on for the yacht or fishing vessel believed to have ferried the bales, weighing up to 1.5 tonnes, from South America and for gang members who were waiting on land to collect them.

The plot has resulted in the largest drug haul ever in the Irish Republic. Most of the cocaine was destined for the UK market. It was only discovered by accident.

The rocky coastlines and sparsely-populated inlets of west Cork and County Kerry have been used for decades as a gateway for bringing in drugs produced by the Colombian cartels.

This ill-fated delivery is thought to have begun at first light on Monday in the choppy seas beyond Mizzen Head, Ireland’s most southerly point.

An inflatable dinghy, with two or three men and a vast quantity of cocaine aboard, cast off from the larger vessel and headed inshore towards Roaringwater Bay. Lying too low in the water, the small boat was reportedly tossed around by a heavy Atlantic swell and overturned more than a mile offshore. The crew were wearing lifejackets but had no emergency flares or radio beacons. One man managed to swim ashore and raise the alarm.

A sea and air rescue was scrambled and shortly after 8am a second man was pulled from the waters off Goleen. Both were suffering from severe hypothermia.

It was only then that coastguards noticed large white packages floating in the sea and the rescue turned into a major drugs investigation. By yesterday afternoon more than 40 bales had been recovered. Irish navy divers will search for those that might have sunk.

“This dramatic find supports claims that Ireland is increasingly being used as a transit point in the international drugs trade,” said Jim O’Keefe, justice spokesman for the opposition Fine Gael party. “The sheer size of this haul also demonstrates the scale of the drugs problem which Ireland is now facing.”

A 22-year-old Englishman, one of those who survived the sea, has been arrested and is being questioned at Bantry police station. Under anti-drugs legislation he can be held for up to seven days.

Armed officers are at the hospital bedside of his colleague. He is likely to be arrested when medically discharged.

Gardai are looking for two other men, both said to be English, reportedly seen waiting onshore with several UK- registered 4×4 cars. Garda Superintendent Tony Quilter, who is leading the investigation, said he believed the pair, said to be in their 40s, were still in the area. Roads have been sealed off.

“They were seen going through some fields and we have had an intensive search ongoing throughout in the Mizzen Head peninsula. We’re appealing for residents in the area to report any suspicious activity,” he said.

The UK’s Serious and Organised Crime Agency and Interpol are working with the Irish authorities on the inquiry.