Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Irish Navy and Coast Guard vessels combed the County Cork coast in search of a record haul of cocaine that has been washing up in bales. Police made the discovery accidentally when one of the suspected smugglers swam ashore and reported that a colleague could be drowning after their rubber dinghy capsized in heavy seas. That triggered a full search-and-rescue operation — which found one survivor and a flotilla of floating cocaine bundles. Police Superintendent Tony Quilter said the smugglers appeared to have abandoned three sport utility vehicles that would have been used to carry away the cocaine, estimated at close to 1.4 tonnes worth $145 million US. Customs officials said its street value, after being cut with sugar, would have been roughly triple that. Searchers kept finding more bales of the drug Tuesday, in addition to two rubber dinghies. Quilter said police had arrested the man who raised the alarm and were expected to arrest the rescued man once he is released from hospital. They were searching for two others who were seen running away from the scene.
L.É OrlaPolice said the arrested man and his hospitalized accomplice were both suspected English drugs smugglers based in southern Spain and Ireland. The cocaine was suspected of being smuggled from South America via West Africa and bound for sale in both Britain and Ireland. Cocaine is the fastest-growing illegal narcotic in Ireland, where a long-booming economy is funding a wave of recreational drug use. Customs officials and police also concede that Ireland is considered an ideal European landing point for drugs from Africa and South America, because Ireland has the most extensive territorial waters to police in Europe and one of the smallest navies. The rugged coastline of Cork, Ireland's southernmost point, has been a favoured spot for drug smugglers for decades. L.É OrlaIreland's naval service said its officers were looking through records of which ships had passed along the County Cork coast in recent days, in the hope of pinpointing the "mother ship" that had dispensed the two cocaine-loaded dinghies. The major naval vessel deployed in the search, the L.É Orla, was also keeping an eye on yachts and sailboats passing through the area — and warning their operators by radio not to collect any cocaine bales from the sea. The volume of cocaine recovered from the ocean this week exceeds all previous records for Irish drug seizures. In 2005 and 2006, police said the total value of all seizures totalled about $135 million US — about half of that representing finds of marijuana.