Friday, 7 November 2008

Irish police seize yacht with cocaine worth more than £500m

Two Britons held in drugs haul from Caribbean boat off the coast of County Cork
Jenny Percival and agencies, Friday 7 November 2008 09.47 GMT
Police guard the yacht Dances with Waves as it is towed in to Castletownbere in County Cork, Ireland. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
A luxury yacht packed with cocaine worth more than half a billion pounds was towed ashore under armed guard today after it was seized off the Irish coast.
Gale force winds and seven-metre-high waves had hampered the capture of the yacht, Dances With Waves, but this morning it was anchored in an isolated part of the small fishing port of Castletownbere, in County Cork.
A section of the harbour was sealed off as customs and police officers began stripping down the vessel.
Police would also begin questioning three men – two Britons and one man originally from Dublin - who were arrested and brought ashore last night after armed authorities stormed the 60ft cruiser in international waters 150 miles off south-west Cork.
The trio, aged between 44 and 52, had been at sea for more than a month.
The yacht, which is understood to have been registered to a UK port in the past, is laden with cocaine that could total 1.7 tonnes and could be worth as much as 700m euros (£572m). The haul is one of the largest drugs seizures in Europe this year and is expected to eclipse last year's record find off County Cork.
Today's haul was intercepted when authorities launched an operation codenamed Sea Bright after receiving intelligence from European anti-drugs officials. The yacht had been under surveillance since it left the Caribbean.
The Irish taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and the justice minister, Dermot Ahern, have praised authorities for the success.
Last year a cocaine batch of the same size and valued at 440m euros washed up on the Cork coast near Mizen Head after an elaborate trafficking scam fell apart.
The smuggling ring was foiled when a boat used by the gang broke down in a heavy swell, and overturned, dumping 62 bales of high-grade drugs into the sea.

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