Cocaine bale still missing in waters off west Cork

 

Gardaí investigating the massive cocaine seizure off the coast of west Cork last Monday believe they have recovered almost the entire drugs cargo and that only one 25kg bale is unaccounted for.

It also emerged last night that members of the Garda's Emergency Response Unit (ERU) have been drafted in to west Cork to help in the search for two men gardaí believe were involved in the botched smuggling operation and who remain at large.

The armed members will also be used to increase security in the area, which does not have a large armed Garda presence.

Reliable sources have told The Irish Timesthat while it was impossible to be certain how big the full cocaine shipment was, the investigation has established that there were 62 bales dropped into Dunlough Bay, with 61 recovered to date.

If this intelligence proves accurate, the full haul was worth €108.5 million, based on the Garda and Customs and Excise valuation of €70,000 for a kilo of cocaine.

The street value of the full haul, after mixing the drug with bulking agents such as glucose, could be up to €325.5 million.

A team of Naval Service divers searched underwater caves in Dunlough Bay and a location around a life buoy for more drugs over the weekend. However, while wreckage was found from one of the sunken rigid inflatable boats (ribs) used to try to land the drugs, no further bales of cocaine were recovered.

Gardaí now believe there were probably eight men involved in the smuggling operation on land, and that they had been staying in two rented houses and other accommodation in west Cork for up to three weeks.

Detectives are unsure where the missing gang members are.

They have not ruled out the possibility that some of them have fled the Republic and may be already back in Britain, where the cocaine was to have been taken.

Reliable sources said they believed at least one of the group travelled across the Atlantic on board the large vessel which delivered the drugs. They believe this man helped to unload the shipment into the water and that he reached the shore.

Gardaí are hopeful that forensic testing of Lucky Day, a US-registered catamaran impounded in La Coruna in Spain last week, will yield DNA or fingerprint evidence that will link one of the men in custody in Cork with the vessel.

The Lucky Dayremained impounded in La Coruna last night. The two crew members, a 40-year-old and a 50-year-old with Lithuanian identity papers, are being held by Spanish police.

Gardaí are still unsure where and when the drugs were loaded on to the boat which brought the cargo to Ireland.

The investigating team is also unclear about the route the vessel took to Ireland before dropping its cargo.

The Lucky Dayis known to have been in Trinidad in April but its movements since then have not yet been confirmed.