Cocaine haul worth €400m leads to commendations

Navy officers rewarded for their roles in one of the largest drug seizures in State’s history

Armed Naval and Garda personnel with the cocaine which was seized from a yacht off the west coast of Ireland, in the harbour at Castletown Bere in Co Cork in 2008. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Armed Naval and Garda personnel with the cocaine which was seized from a yacht off the west coast of Ireland, in the harbour at Castletown Bere in Co Cork in 2008. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

A hospital porter who found that his work increasingly involved wheeling the dead bodies of overdose victims thanked a Naval Service officer for saving hundreds of lives after one of the largest drug seizures in the history of the State.

The Government on Friday awarded a prestigious distinguished service medal and two commendations to three officers of the Irish Naval Service for their role in Operation Seabight in 2008.

The operation involved the seizure of €400 million worth of cocaine 150 nautical miles southwest of Mizen Head in extremely challenging weather conditions.

Lieut Comm Martin Brett, who received a commendation for his actions during Operation Seabight, said that while the ceremony at Haulbowline Naval Base in Co Cork was a massive honour, he was equally moved when he received a heartfelt letter from a hospital porter.

“The (seizure) was 155 million lines of cocaine by the time it is cut and sold on the street. It was 80 per cent proof, which is pure cocaine. Every one line potentially a killer.

“We got a letter from a porter in a hospital thanking us because he said he was sick and tired of pushing (trolleys) of kids with overdoses and comforting families in hospitals because of drugs. That means as much to me as the commendation today. Because that is reality. That is somebody on the ground dealing on a day-to-day basis with the consequences of drugs.”

Log book entry

Meanwhile, Lieut Comm Brett said the smugglers on board Dances with Waves had filled in a log book entry in which they claimed that they had discovered the 74 bales (over 1.5 tonnes) of cocaine at sea.

They told members of the Naval Service that they planned to hand the drugs over to gardaí or the police upon their arrival in a port.

“They had made an entry in their log book to indicate that they had picked something up from the sea having left South America.

“The entry was made so that had they been detained it would have been part of their defence that they weren’t actually importing drugs that they had simply found this and it was their intention to report it on arrival in a port. It was their defence that there were going to bring it to gardaí or police on their arrival in a port.”

Lieut Comm Jamie Cotter received a Distinguished Service Medal with Distinction at the ceremony for his actions as boarding officer during Operation Seabight.

Lieut Comm Martin Brett, Comm (Retired) Eugene Ryan, and Lieut Comm Jamie Cotter, who were involved in Operation Seabright. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Lieut Comm Martin Brett, Comm (Retired) Eugene Ryan, and Lieut Comm Jamie Cotter, who were involved in Operation Seabright. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Lieut Comm Cotter says such seizures are a testament to the tremendous work that has been carried out in the Naval Service over the last few years in terms of resourcing and training.

“The Navy’s standard course for narcotics is a five-day intensive boarding team members’ course. In addition to that you would do a two-week instructors’ course that would qualify you to be the officer of the boarding team. Then we also send people internationally on courses with the Royal Navy and with the Hellenic Navy in Greece. We make sure our practice and procedures are in keeping with best practice.

“But in the background you have the intelligence operation. The Joint Taskforce, the co-operation between an Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise is key to providing the most accurate information to the tactical team.”

Commendation

Commander Eugene Ryan also received a commendation arising out of his actions during Operation Seabight.

Now retired, albeit active in rugby where he is a qualified referee, he spent 24 years at sea during which time he commanded the LÉ Grainne, LÉ Aoife, LÉ Emer and LÉ Eithne.

He says individuals involved in the actual physical act of transporting drugs on yachts are often “stooges” who risk their lives for “pitiful money.”

Commander Ryan stressed he was “hugely proud” of the achievements of his fellow Naval personnel over the years.

“This place [Haulbowline] was my life for 40 years. I know they are having difficulties in the Defence Force keeping people in, but for me I just wanted to be in the Navy. I wanted to be part of it. What we have done and what I see other people doing it makes me hugely proud.”

Three men were jailed for 10 years each in 2009 in relation to their part in Operation Seabight. Aboard the yacht were Philip Doo, (52), of Brixham, Devon; David Mufford, (45), of Torquay, Devon; and Christopher Wiggins, (45), of Estepona, Malaga, Spain.

The men travelled from Spain to Trinidad and Tobago, where Mr Doo purchased the yacht for €120,000. They later sailed to Venezuela to collect the drugs. Their destination was Caernarfon Bay, near Holyhead, Wales.