Irish Customs officers played a central role in the initial stages of the international investigation that led to the seizure off Cape Verde of a yacht carrying 500kg of cocaine worth €135 million destined for the Canary Islands.
Customs officers in Cork began an investigation into the Maid of Orleans in October 2010 after their suspicions were aroused when the yacht visited Crosshaven in Cork harbour.
Informed sources said the Customs officers became curious when they profiled the owner and made inquiries as to how he had paid for the boat, which they believed he had purchased in the UK earlier in 2010.
The man had been on his way from Wales to Las Palmas in the Canaries when he ran into bad weather and headed for Cork.
However, he lost steering control near Power Head in east Cork and had to be towed by Ballycotton RNLI into Crosshaven.
It was while the yacht was waiting for repairs in Crosshaven that Customs officers began their inquiries.
On discovering that the owner was known to US drug-enforcement agencies, they began compiling a dossier on the vessel’s travel patterns.
According to an informed source, Irish Customs officials forwarded details on the Maid of Orleans to their counterparts in the UK as well as other law enforcement agencies in Europe, triggering the investigation which led to the detention of the yacht on July 17th.
Spanish police and Customs officials intercepted the 10m long yacht in international waters between Cape Verde, off the coast of Angola, and Gran Canaria.
They found 500kg of cocaine on the boat, wrapped in packages and hidden in a false bottom on the yacht.
They immediately arrested the American skipper of the boat and brought the Maid of Orleans to Gran Canaria, where they also arrested a man from Northern Ireland and two Spanish men.
Police also arrested an Australian woman in Tenerife.
Spanish police also seized several guns including three Derringer handguns, a semi-automatic pistol and an assault rifle, gold bars worth €135,000 and satellite telecommunications equipment during raids in the Canary Islands linked to the operation.
Spanish police said they believed the cocaine originated in Colombia but had been taken to Brazil before being shipped to Cape Verde where.
They believe, the gang had split up the shipment into smaller consignments in Cape Verde for transportation on to the Canary Islands.