A Joint Task Force comprising members of Ireland’s Revenue Customs Service, Naval Service, and An Garda Síochána implemented a coordinated operation at sea which resulted in the detention of MV MATTHEW, a Panamanian registered bulk cargo vessel originating in South America, in the early hours of Tuesday, September 26.
More than two tons of cocaine, valued at €157 million, were recovered as part of the joint operation off the Irish coast.
The Inter-Agency operation was conducted using Naval and Air Corps assets and interagency personnel, including the Army Ranger Wing in challenging conditions off Ireland's South East coast.
"This Joint & multiagency Op demonstrates the interoperability of Óglaigh na hÉireann, underlining the unique capability that we bring to the defence of the State. The significant intel led planning by the JTF enabled the coordination & execution of this complex multiagency Op. pic.twitter.com/2bcsZkyxdg— Óglaigh na hÉireann (@defenceforces) September 26, 2023
Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Defence Forces, said on Tuesday that as part of the intelligence-led operation, the Joint Task Force requested assistance from the Defence Forces, which was provided by the deployment of the LE WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, two AW139 helicopters, one CASA fixed wing aircraft, and one PC12 fixed wing aircraft.
A specialist team from the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) also assisted in the operation. The container ship was tracked by both Air Corps and the Naval Service assets over a number of days and was detained following the firing of warning shots in its direction by the LE WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS.
A team from the ARW was then deployed by heli onto the MV MATTHEW via fast rope insertion in challenging conditions. The ARW made the vessel safe and enabled its boarding by officials and personnel from the Irish Navy, the Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB), and Revenue’s Customs Service.
The vessel was escorted by the Naval Service to an Irish Port where it will be detained to allow for a detailed search and investigation by Revenue Customs and An Garda Siochana.
Gardai said the intelligence-led operation was conducted in collaboration with the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre - Narcotics (MAOC (N)) based in Lisbon, and partners from the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA), and French customs service DNRED.
MAOC-N is an initiative by seven EU Member Countries: France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, and the UK, with financial support from the Prevention against Crime Programme of the European Union, European Commission - Directorate - General Home Affairs. The Centre provides a forum for multi-lateral cooperation to suppress illicit drug trafficking by sea and air.
Three males aged 60, 50, and 31 have been arrested on suspicion of organized crime offenses and are currently detained at Garda stations in Co Wexford.
In a joint media briefing on Wednesday, Gerry Harrahill, Director General of Revenue and Customs, said that the weight of the cocaine involved was 2253kg (2.2 tons), valued to be €157million.
“We have removed the possibility, at least, for destruction, devastation to families, to individuals, and communities by ensuring that this product doesn’t get onto the streets,” Harrahill said, adding, “This is about people and trying to keep them safe and secure.”
Justin Kelly, Assistant Commissioner, Organized and Serious Crime, said on Wednesday: “This is the largest drug seizure in the history of the State.
“This is a hugely significant operation and it shows our unrelenting determination to disrupt and dismantle networks which are determined to bring drugs into our country.
“These groups are transnational groups, they are working all across the world, and because of that, we need to work with our international partners.
“I think this particular operation demonstrates that type of cooperation that we had.”
Kelly paid compliments to all the men and women who were involved in the operation.
He added: “I cannot overemphasize the significance of this operation and the disruption that this is going to cause the organized criminal group behind the shipment.”
Kelly later said: "This product was supplied by a South American cartel.
"One of the murderous cartels that are behind the cocaine shipments into Europe.
"A shipment like this into Europe, it's partly destined for the Irish market but obviously with the size, and the intelligence that we have behind it, we know that the organized crime group behind this comprised of a number of different elements from across Europe given its size."
Tony Geraghty, Fleet Commander, Irish Naval Service, said that while Tuesday’s operation was “extremely complex,” it was also “very successful from a Defence Force point of view.”