The State has moved to confiscate the MV Matthew, the ship that was seized off the south coast in September carrying a record cocaine haul.
The bulk carrier ship is to be forfeited to the State under customs legislation introduced in 2015 which allows Revenue to seize any vessel used to smuggle illegal goods into the State.
It will then most likely be auctioned off, with the proceeds going into State coffers. It is also open to the authorities to scrap the vessel or even put it into service.
The 190m (620ft) ship was built in 2001 and is believed to be worth about €11 million.
The Matthew, which remains docked in Cork Harbour, was officially seized by customs officers, under the provisions of the Customs Act 2015, on October 19th, three weeks after it was stopped in a dramatic interdiction operation involving the Naval Service, Air Corps, gardaí, Revenue and special forces troops.
According to a notice published in Iris Oifigiúil, the official State gazette, on October 20th anyone claiming ownership of the vessel has 30 days to contest the forfeiture. If no one comes forward it will be “duly condemned as forfeited.”
The Panama-flagged MV Matthew was intercepted off the coast of Co Cork by the LÉ William Butler Yeats. The naval ship fired a warning shot when the Matthew failed to stop before Army Ranger Wing personnel fast roped from a helicopter on to the deck and detained the crew.
On board, they found 2,253kg of cocaine worth €157 million, the largest cocaine seizure by weight in Irish history.
Its captain and 24 crew members were detained and interviewed. Seven crew members have since been charged and are awaiting trial.
The ship was purchased last August by Matthew Maritime, becoming the company’s only vessel. The company is based in the Marshall Islands where it shares a registered address with several companies which have been subject to US sanctions.
Nine days after it was purchased, the Matthew set sail for Ireland after departing from Curaçao, a Dutch-Caribbean island roughly 30km north of Venezuela.
It sailed across the Atlantic to Morocco before travelling north towards Ireland. Authorities are examining if it unloaded further consignments of cocaine along the way.
Meanwhile, the Castlemore, a fishing vessel suspected of being involved in the smuggling operation, remains stranded on a sandbank off the Wexford Coast.
Authorities believe the smugglers intended to offload some of the cocaine from the Matthew on to the Castlemore but were unable.
Officials now believe it is unlikely the fishing vessel will be recovered. It has been largely covered by sand and is in very poor condition. Gardaí do not believe there is any cocaine aboard.