Special forces storm cartel 'mother ship': Commandos capture cargo ship carrying '£100M' worth of cocaine  following chase across the Atlantic – after 'trawler landing craft' ran aground on Irish beach

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  • Minister said the drugs on board were ‘no doubt been destined for Irish and European markets’

An elite Irish commando unit stormed a drug cartel’s ‘mother ship’ carrying £136 million worth of cocaine on Tuesday in a major operation off the coast of Ireland.

Members of the highly trained Army Ranger Wing descended by fast-rope from a helicopter on to the MV Matthew in the early hours, after the vessel became the focus point of a multi-agency operation which began on Sunday.

Cops believe the ship was being used by Narco terrorists to smuggle the drugs to Ireland and on to other European countries. The major multi-agency operation followed an alert after a separate boat ran aground in St George’s Channel.

The seizure of the two vessels off the south-east coast represents potentially the biggest ever drug seizure in Irish history, with more than 2,250 kilogrammes (4,960lbs) of suspected cocaine worth around 157 million euros. 

Last night, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the drugs on board would have ‘no doubt been destined for Irish and European markets’ and this ‘will represent a blow to the organised-crime gangs involved in drug distribution internationally’. 

Three men aged 31, 50 and 60 have been arrested on suspicion of organised crime offences following the coordinated raid by commandos from the Army Ranger Wing, the Irish navy, Revenue and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

The men – two of whom were winched from the separate trawler which ran aground on Sunday – have been detained at garda stations in Wexford.

An elite Irish unit of commandos stormed a drug cartel's 'mother ship' carrying '£100 million' worth of cocaine in a major operation off the south-east coast of Ireland. Pictured: Military personnel onboard a cargo vessel named MV Matthew whilst it's escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy after a "significant quantity" of suspected drugs were found onboard, Tuesday

An elite Irish unit of commandos stormed a drug cartel’s ‘mother ship’ carrying ‘£100 million’ worth of cocaine in a major operation off the south-east coast of Ireland. Pictured: Military personnel onboard a cargo vessel named MV Matthew whilst it’s escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy after a ‘significant quantity’ of suspected drugs were found onboard, Tuesday

Members of the highly trained Army Ranger Wing descended by fast-rope from a helicopter on to the MV Matthew (pictured) in the early hours of Tuesday, after the vessel became the focus point of a multi-agency operation which began on Sunday

Members of the highly trained Army Ranger Wing descended by fast-rope from a helicopter on to the MV Matthew (pictured) in the early hours of Tuesday, after the vessel became the focus point of a multi-agency operation which began on Sunday 

Cops believe the ship was being used by Narco terrorists to smuggle drugs to Ireland and on to other European countries. The major multi-agency operation followed an alert after a separate boat (pictured as a helicopter hovers above on Tuesday) ran aground off the east coast

Cops believe the ship was being used by Narco terrorists to smuggle drugs to Ireland and on to other European countries. The major multi-agency operation followed an alert after a separate boat (pictured as a helicopter hovers above on Tuesday) ran aground off the east coast

Investigators from the Bureau believe the Panama-owned MV Matthew was the ‘mother ship’ used by South American gangsters to transport cocaine to Ireland.

Once off the coast in the Atlantic, the vessel would distribute the drugs to smaller boats which would then ship them to other European countries, officials believe.

The head of the Irish Defence Forces said the Army and Gardai had been working together for weeks to bring down the smuggling gang, leading to the MV Matthew being stormed by the Army Ranger Wing and detained.

The vast container ship was on Tuesday night brought to Cork’s Cobh Harbour for an inspection. Crowds of people lined the walls of the harbour as the vessel was transported to a naval base in Haulbowline, County Cork.

Armed members of the Ranger Wing were seen on board alongside ship crew members and other Defence Forces personnel. The agencies said a ‘significant quantity’ of suspected drugs were found on board the cargo ship.

The Navy’s patrol vessel LE William Butler Yeats had fired warning shots at the vessel after ordering it to stop, but it did not stop or comply with directions to allow Irish authorities to board the ship.

In response, military commandos engaged the vessel.

Personnel from the Army Ranger Wing fast-roped onto the container ship’s deck from helicopters in what the Irish Defence Forces said were ‘challenging conditions’.

Fast-roping involves sliding down a rope from a hovering helicopter. It is believed to be the first time the Irish Army has had to use this technique in a real-world setting.

After the ship was made safe, the Garda units (Irish police) and customs officers boarded the vessel alongside the naval service. Members of the crew were interviewed by gardai, and their documents were seized.

Officers are understood to be working with Interpol and Europol to establish if any of the crew have links to known organised crime groups.

The naval service escorted the ship to an Irish port where it was impounded. It will be detained for a detailed search and investigation. 

Forensic examinations of ‘every inch’ of the ship will now take place, according to security sources, who said that the actions since Sunday could represent one of the biggest, if not the biggest ever, seizures of drugs in the history of Ireland. 

Two helicopters and two planes were involved in the operation. The Irish Air Corps and Naval Service had been tracking the container ship over a number of days.

In a statement, the Defence Forces said: ‘A specialist team from the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) then deployed by helicopter on to the MV Matthew via fast-rope insertion in challenging conditions.’ 

A handout photo issued by the Irish Defence Forces on Tuesday of the cargo vessel named MV Matthew, which was escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy after a 'significant quantity' of suspected drugs were found onboard

A handout photo issued by the Irish Defence Forces on Tuesday of the cargo vessel named MV Matthew, which was escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy after a ‘significant quantity’ of suspected drugs were found onboard

Military personnel are seen onboard the cargo vessel named MV Matthew whilst it is escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy on Tuesday

Military personnel are seen onboard the cargo vessel named MV Matthew whilst it is escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy on Tuesday

Police in Ireland are said to have found £100 million worth of cocaine onboard a cargo vessel after it ran aground on a beach following a chase across the Atlantic

Police in Ireland are said to have found £100 million worth of cocaine onboard a cargo vessel after it ran aground on a beach following a chase across the Atlantic

Speaking to The Irish Sun, one source said: ‘It looks like this bulk container was used to smuggle drugs across the Atlantic before rendezvousing with smaller trawlers.

‘This was a very sophisticated operation at the upper levels of drug trafficking. Some of the drugs would have ended up in ­Ireland but other consignments would have been brought to other European countries.’

The major multi-agency operation followed an alert after a separate boat – the Castlemore – ran aground off the coast of Wexford.

The Irish Coast Guard said it received a distress call from a vessel in difficulty off the coast of County Wexford at about 10:10pm on Sunday evening, after the vessel had hit a sandbank. Its movements were being monitored from then onwards.

Waterford-based coast guard helicopter R117, and Rosslare RNLI were sent to the scene, and attempts to tow the vessel were unsuccessful.

Officers believe millions of pounds worth of cocaine were thrown overboard. 

Two of the three men arrested in the operation were winched from this trawler, while the third was held after the MV Matthew was stormed by the elite unit.

Officials believe they have busted a significant drug smuggling route and operation that brings narcotics from Colombia to Europe.

It is thought that gangs would hold the drugs in Ireland before moving them on to be sold across the UK and the European continent. The Irish Sun has reported that one of the men arrested from the trawler is a UK national, while the other is from Russia.

According to Irish reports, the country is seen as an ideal route to smuggle drugs through on account of its lack of naval patrols.

The co-ordinated operation, involving the Irish navy, Army Ranger Wing, Revenue and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, resulted in the 'detention of a Panamanian-registered bulk cargo vessel originating in South America'

The co-ordinated operation, involving the Irish navy, Army Ranger Wing, Revenue and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, resulted in the ‘detention of a Panamanian-registered bulk cargo vessel originating in South America’

Armed members of the Ranger Wing were seen on board alongside ship crew members and other Defence Forces personnel

Armed members of the Ranger Wing were seen on board alongside ship crew members and other Defence Forces personnel

In a joint statement, Revenue and An Garda Siochana said the operation was conducted using Air Corps and navy assets in challenging conditions off the south-east coast of Ireland. The agencies said ‘a significant quantity of suspected controlled drugs were located onboard’. 

They added: ‘After Army Ranger Wing personnel secured the vessel, members of the Irish navy, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) and Revenue’s Customs Service were transferred to the cargo vessel, which is currently under escort by a naval ship to an Irish port. 

‘The cargo vessel will now be the subject of a detailed examination by Revenue Customs and An Garda Siochana.

‘This intelligence-led operation was conducted in collaboration with the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC N) based in Lisbon, Portugal, and partners from the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) and French customs service DNRED.’ 

Last night the Defence Forces, gardaí and the Irish Coast Guard were seen searching the waters. The level of cooperation is said to be similar to those international vessels suspected of trafficking drugs worth tens of millions or up to £100million, the Irish Times reported.

The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces commended the efforts of all personnel involved in the operation.

Lieutenant General Sean Clancy said: ‘I would like to personally commend the courage, discipline and professionalism of all personnel involved in this successful operation.’

He said the multi-agency operation demonstrates the interoperability of the Defence Forces, underlining the ‘unique capability that we bring to the defence of the State’.

He added: ‘The significant intelligence-led planning by the joint task force enabled the co-ordination and execution of this complex multiagency operation.

‘This operation demonstrated the importance of all services of the Defence Forces and their ability to operate in the most challenging of conditions.’

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee congratulated the State and international bodies involved in the operation. 

She said the drugs on board which would have ‘no doubt been destined for Irish and European markets’. 

Military personnel onboard MV Matthew after a 'significant quantity' of suspected drugs were found onboard

Military personnel onboard MV Matthew after a ‘significant quantity’ of suspected drugs were found onboard

In a statement she said: ‘It will represent a blow to the organised-crime gangs involved in drug distribution internationally.’ 

She said it shows the success of An Garda Siochana in building coalitions to tackle transnational crime. 

‘Illegal drug distribution and misuse does untold damage to our communities. Criminals may seek to overcome the barrier of borders, but as shown today borders are not barriers to effective criminal co-operation. 

‘Tackling organised crime is a key priority for Government and is central to building safer, stronger communities. We will always provide An Garda Siochana with the support and resources they need.’




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