A seventh man has been arrested by members of An Garda Síochána investigating Ireland’s largest ever foiled smuggling operation with more than two tonnes of cocaine seized.
Detectives were earlier due to begin questioning three officers arrested on board the cargo ship, the MV Matthew, at the centre of case involving seized cocaine worth €157 million. A total of seven men have now been detained including British, Iranian and Ukrainian nationals.
The seventh man detained, a 48-year-old Dutch national, was arrested on Thursday by gardaí on board the ship and taken to Mallow Garda Station where he is being held under Section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows gardaí detain suspects for up to seven days before they have to be charged or released.
The arrests include five men who were on board the MV Matthew.
Another two men, a Scotsman (60) and Ukrainian (30) who were airlifted from the stricken Castlemore trawler off the Wexford coast on Monday morning, are being held and questioned in Wexford Garda Station.
Officers from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) were due to begin questioning two Ukrainians and an Iranian arrested on board the MV Matthew at Marino Point in Cork Harbour about the huge haul of drugs found on board the vessel when she was detained.
The 189-metre-long Panamanian registered bulk carrier was detained after a team of elite Army Rangers boarded the ship off Ballycotton at around lunch hour on Tuesday, took control of the ship and ordered her to head for Cork after she attempted to head for the open sea.
Speaking at a Policing Authority meeting on Thursday, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said investigations would focus not just on the drugs but on the organisation and financing of the smuggling attempts.
He said it was a very complex interception operation “with many threads to it” and paid tribute to the Garda, Defence Forces and Revenue personnel involved in the operation.
Mr Harris said a number of criminal organisations were involved in the smuggling attempt and that they made a “huge investment” in the operation. The interception will probably result is a loss of revenue to various gangs, he said.
The seizure and arrrests show the value of international cooperation and the Garda’s overseas liaison unit, the Commissioner said.
Having gardaí stationed on the ground overseas allows for a “shared understanding and the fast transfer of information”.
Policing Authority chair Bob Collins also commended the individuals and agencies involved.
The MV Matthew’s captain, a 50-year-old Iranian national had been evacuated from the ship off the Waterford coast on Monday night for medical treatment. The rangers located the remaining 20 crew members and brought them on to the bridge where they held them until they reached Cobh.
Some of the crew are understood to have attempted to destroy a portion of the cocaine by placing it in a lifeboat, dowsing it with an accelerant and setting it alight but the rangers managed to extinguish the blaze.
On arrival at Marino Point, the crew remained on board the ship as officers from the GNDOCB began unloading around 90 bales of cocaine, each containing around 25 kilos of the drug from the vessel in an operation that took almost eight hours from late on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday evening, GNDOCB detectives arrested the ship’s chief officer and first officer, both 30-year-old Ukrainians, along with the second officer, a 37-year-old Iranian.
The chief officer was brought to Fermoy Garda Station for questioning while the other two officers were taken to Cobh Garda Station. All three are being detained under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 which allows gardaí hold suspects for up to seven days.
Gardaí are also continuing to question the Iranian captain of the MV Matthew, who was arrested on Tuesday morning after he was discharged from University Hospital Waterford following treatment for injuries sustained on board the vessel on Monday night.
The Iranian captain was taken for questioning to Wexford Garda Station where gardaí were already questioning the two men airlifted from the Castlemore on suspicion of having an involvement in the drug smuggling operation.
The Briton and the eastern European were arrested on Monday after they were winched to safety from the trawler, which became stranded on the Money Weights Sandbank off Blackwater in Co Wexford in poor weather conditions late on Sunday night.