Gardaí believe ship off Cork coast was involved in planned delivery of cocaine to drug gang

Detention of 10 suspects extended at special sitting of Bandon District Court

Gardaí are liaising closely with the Naval Service and Customs as well as several foreign law-enforcement agencies to try to identify the ship which they believe was involved in the planned delivery of a large consignment of cocaine to a drug-trafficking gang in west Cork last week.

Detectives investigating the activities of an organised criminal group, who had dispatched 10 men to west Cork to collect the drugs, have asked Naval Service analysts to look at ship movements off the southwest coast over the last week in a bid to identify a vessel that could have been carrying the drugs.

They are also liaising with law-enforcement agencies in the UK as well as the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) based in Lisbon, Portugal, to see what ships have crossed the Atlantic from South America, and possibly come up from West Africa and the Canaries, to arrive off southwest Ireland early last week.

Gardaí believe a six-man landing party put to sea from Tragumna slip in Cork in the early hours of Tuesday in a rigid inflatable boat to rendezvous with the mother ship and collect the drugs but for some reason failed to link up with the ship and were finally forced to abort the mission early on Thursday morning after spending almost two days at sea.


At a special sitting of at Bandon District Court on Friday night when gardaí applied to extend the detention of 10 suspects, Chief Supt Vincent O’Sullivan of Cork North and West Garda Division revealed gardaí received a call from a concerned citizen about men in a camper van acting suspiciously at Tragumna slip at about 4.30am last Tuesday.

Gardaí now believe these men were waiting for the landing party to return to shore with the drugs but they left the area when the landing party failed to return and only returned to Tragumna in the early hours of Thursday morning to meet the six-man landing party as they returned empty-handed.

“It now looks like these fellows could have been out at sea for almost 48 hours after something went wrong and they literally missed the boat – the weather conditions were pretty bad but they had wetsuits and enough food so it looks like they may have stayed at sea rather than coming back to Tragumna and launching again on Thursday,” said a source.

Gardaí had been keeping surveillance on Tragumna following the first report of suspicious activity, but were forced to move quickly on Thursday morning when a woman walking her dog noticed men acting suspiciously there at about 6.30am and notified gardaí. They moved in and apprehended all 10 men involved in the suspected drug-smuggling operation.

Three men in a Land Rover Discovery jeep were arrested near Tragumna slip and the driver of an articulated lorry was arrested as he also tried to leave the car park in Tragumna while the six-man landing party were arrested when gardaí stopped a Zephyr camper van in the centre of Leap village, all 10 being arrested around 7.30am on Thursday.

At the court hearing, Chief Supt O’Sullivan revealed gardaí had found a 40ft rigid inflatable boat (RIB) fitted with three high-powered engines and five drums containing 1,450 litres of petrol aboard, all hidden in the trailer of the articulated lorry when they stopped it leaving Tragumna.

He told Judge James McNulty that lighting on the RIB including navigational lighting had been covered up to reduce the risk of the vessel being spotted at sea which supported garda suspicions the group were involved in criminal activity and were members of an organised crime group planning to import drugs into Ireland.

Judge McNulty granted the gardaí a 72-hour extension under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 and gardaí were this weekend continuing to question all 10 suspects at Bantry and Bandon Garda stations in west Cork, Togher and the Bridewell Garda stations in Cork city and Mallow Garda station in north Cork.

One of those arrested, the driver of the truck is a 37-year-old man from Co Fermanagh but the others are all foreign nationals. They include six Spaniards, two Dutch nationals who were born in Iran and a Serbian. Gardaí are being assisted by interpreters in some of their interviews with the suspected gang members.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times