Naval Service’s sole active ship unavailable for Cork drugs search due to St Patrick’s Day celebrations

Naval Service’s sole active ship unavailable for Cork drugs search due to St Patrick’s Day celebrations

The Irish Naval Service’s sole active ship was unavailable to take part in a large drug search off the coast of Cork this weekend as it was taking part in St Patrick’s Day festivities in Dublin.

Gardaí investigating a suspected attempt to land a large consignment of cocaine near Skibbereen in west Cork this week made a formal request to the Naval Service for assistance in the search.

At the time the only one active ship, the LÉ George Bernard Shaw, was on its way to Dún Laoghaire to take part in the St Patrick’s festival in the town.

The ship remained docked in the south Dublin town over the weekend while tours were offered to members of the public. The ship’s crew took part in the town’s St Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday.

This meant there was no naval ship available to assist in searching the thousands of square kilometres off the coast of Cork where the drugs may be.

In response to queries, the Defence Forces confirmed it received a request for assistance from An Garda Síochána. It said because it was an inshore, coastal operation, it was determined that the best asset to deploy was the Naval Service Diving Section.

Naval divers were on a training exercise nearby on Bere Island when they got the call to assist. They have deployed in small rigid-hull inflatable boats (Rhibs) to help with the search.

Ireland’s lack of focus on maritime security encapsulated by two events 400km apart ]

Military sources said the Shaw has been the only ship available for patrol for the last three weeks.

It is not known if the ship would have been deployed in the search had not been in Dún Laoghaire. However, former Naval Service commander Eugene Ryan said it would be very useful in such an operation as it is “fully equipped” for drugs searches.

Independent TD for Kildare and former Defence Forces officer Cathal Berry said it was “unacceptable” there was just one ship in duty over the weekend.

“Ireland’s Atlantic coast is now ground zero for smuggling narcotics into Europe. This is primarily due to the precarious state of the Irish navy. There is no substitute for hulls on the water providing a visible maritime presence to deter and disrupt smugglers,” he said.

Last year, the Naval Service was forced to reduce its active fleet to just two ships due to drastic manpower shortages.

Ireland currently has fewer ships available to patrol its 437,500sq km than at any point since the 1970s.

At several points over recent months, the Naval Service has not been able to put a single ship to sea due to manpower shortages and mechanical issues.

Four ships are currently tied up or in operational reserve due to the personnel shortages.

Last September just one ship, the LE William Butler Yeats, was available to help intercept the MV Matthew, which was attempting to smuggle more than two tonnes of cocaine into the State.

Previous complex interception operations have involved multiple vessels.

Niall Duffy, editor of The Skipper, suggested that, similar to the reduction in the number of Naval Service ships on patrol, the decommissioning of a large number of boats in the Irish fishing fleet could also be having an impact on the ability of law enforcement to detect drug smugglers.

“Traditionally, fishermen are very aware of what is going on at sea – they have to know what’s happening around them in terms of other boats, so they are like an extra pair of eyes and ears at sea, and they have in the past reported suspicious or unusual activity when they see a vessel acting oddly off the Irish coast.

“But under the deal whereby Ireland got €1 billion from the EU Brexit Adjustment Reserve, some 47 boats were decommissioned last year – that’s a lot few fewer fishermen at sea and a lot less eyes and ears that might notice and report any suspicious activity off the Irish coast to the authorities,” said Mr Duffy.

Gardaí believe ship off Cork coast was involved in planned delivery of cocaine to drug gang ]

Meanwhile, gardaí in Cork have arrested 10 members of a suspected international drug trafficking gang as part of their operation.

They are also liaising with police forces in a number of other countries including Dubai, the Netherlands, Spain and Serbia as well as the PSNI, a court has heard.

Gardaí believe members of the alleged gang moved to Co Cork weeks ago to prepare for the collection of a large consignment of cocaine worth tens of millions of euros off the southwest coast.

The men were arrested when gardaí stopped a camper van in Leap village and later a 4×4 and an articulated lorry at Tragumna near Skibbereen at around 7.30am on Thursday.

Initial indications are the gang planned to use a rhib to pick up a consignment of cocaine which had been dumped overboard by a larger vessel.

This smuggling method, known as the “pickup” method, has become much more common in recent years due to increased security measures in European ports.

Drug consignments are usually tied to floating barrels and dropped overboard, sometimes with a GPS device attached. They are then picked up by smugglers in smaller vessels.

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