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Smugglers target shipping to get drugs into Europe

Photo: LA Garda - Twitter feed drugs-seizure-la-garda-twitter.jpeg
2.2 tonnes of drugs seized from the bulker Matthew by the Irish authorities
Following the EUR157 million drugs bust by Irish law enforcement on the bulker Matthew the authorities believe another major anti-narcotic operation in shipping is inevitable as smugglers target the huge European cocaine market.

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, earlier this week, Drew Harrahill, Ireland’s revenue commissioner and director general of customs, said that the drugs haul of 2,253 kg of cocaine with an estimated street value of EUR157 million found on the 51,000 dwt bulk carrier MV Matthew, will not be the last.

The latest drugs find on a ship follows the 2019 incident with the MSC Gayane, a more recent shipment of $650 million worth of cocaine found in a container load of bananas in Spain and the concern earlier this year from Dutch and Belgian port authorities that have taken measures to stem the flow of drugs through their ports, 160 tonnes in 2022.

According to Harrahill the revenue and customs had estimated the value of cocaine at €70,000 per kg, valuing the Dutch and Belgian’s seizures for last year at around EUR11.2 billion.

The authorities say that Europe is now the largest market in world for cocaine and that there is a glut of the narcotic on the market.

Harrahill pointed out that the sheer scale of the cocaine found and the criminal organisations around the movement of this amount of the narcotic would indicate that the drug would likely be cut with other substances, possibly many times, and distributed in Ireland, the UK and probably across Europe.

The joint task force (JTF), including the Irish Navy, revenue and customs and Army Ranger Corps and supported by the Irish police, An Garda Siochana, was mobilised on 22 September and had tracked the trawler Castlemore, which had become stranded on the Money Weights Sandbank of Co Wexford.

Two men, a UK citizen and an Eastern European, on the trawler have been arrested with the suspicion that they were to transport the drugs into Ireland on their vessel.

MV Matthew, previously called Honmon, was sold to an undisclosed buyer on 15 June this year by Cosco.

VesselsValue AIS showed that the ship had called in Willemstad, Curacao island, a Dutch protectorate territory in the Caribbean, on 23 August. Curacao is a known transit point for South American organised criminals moving drugs, according to Harrahill.

Initial reports from Commander Tony Gerraty, Fleet operations officer Irish Navy, suggested that the Captain of the MV Matthew, an Iranian national had suffered a medical emergency and had been airlifted to safety, before being arrested.

A report in yesterday’s Irish Times said that seven crew from both the trawler Castlemore and Matthew have now been arrested, but that the ongoing investigations mean that more arrests could be made, not just from the two crew currently held in Ireland, but from organised gangs in a number of locations.

The well-choreographed JTF operation was the end point of the tracking and arrest operation. In fact, the entire operation was far more complex and involved the collaboration of a number of law enforcement organisations across the globe. They included the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Crime Agency in the UK, French customs and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre - Narcotics (MAOC (N)) based in Lisbon.