Cocaine Cruise: Irish navy storms yacht, seizes 1 ton of blow worth £100 m
The yacht, Makayabella, was stormed by armed Irish sailors 300 miles off the coast early on Tuesday.
A 70-year-old man and two others, aged 35 and 28, were arrested by Irish navy officers in a surprise operation. The three men are from West Yorkshire, where police arrested two other men.
The three men on the yacht were arrested by Irish navy officers in an overnight raid involving authorities from UK, France and Venezuela. A search of the yacht, which had sailed from the Caribbean, is ongoing. Officials are still looking for one other person from West Yorkshire in connection with the investigation.
The UK National Crime Agency said the drugs had an estimated street value of more than £100 million. If that value is confirmed it will be one of the biggest drug seizures in Europe this year.
The drugs are believed to have been smuggled from South America. The yacht was tracked by authorities in several countries as it left Venezuela, stopping off in Trinidad.
During the tense night-time sea raid, two teams set off from the coastal patrol vessel LE Niamh on smaller inflatable boats, armed with pistols and batons.
“It was a particularly dark night,” said Captain David Barry, of the Irish Navy. “We believe they had no idea we were there until we were actually on board.”
Security sources in Britain believe the consignment was destined for the north of England, the Daily Mail reports.
Hank Cole, head of international operations for the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: "NCA investigators were part of the effort to identify and track the boat across the Atlantic from the Caribbean, leading to its eventual interception off the coast of Ireland. This was a large seizure and our investigation is ongoing.
"Thanks to the co-operation between the NCA and our Irish, French and Venezuelan colleagues, we have managed to prevent this cocaine reaching our streets and causing damage to communities. I pay tribute to all those involved."
Some of the biggest drug seizures have been off the Irish coast, which is often used as a drop-off zone or stopover point for South American narcotics being smuggled into Europe.
In 2007, the biggest seizure to date was of £344 million worth of Colombian cocaine in Dunlough Bay, west Cork.
That operation was compromised after the UK gang behind the plot overloaded a smaller boat to get the drugs ashore. The boat capsized in heavy seas and the majority of the gang were arrested before they could escape.
A year later, a £312 million haul was intercepted on a yacht. The mastermind, John Alan Brooks, was jailed for 28 years for the plot to bring a massive haul to England from Venezuela. Three other British men involved were each jailed for 10 years.