The container ship MV Matthew with Irish defense force personnel on board as the vessel enters Cork Harbour. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Three more arrested after record drug bust

Gardaí have arrested another man today as well as a further three crew members last night from a South American container ship following the biggest drug seizure in the history of the state.

The four men are being detained in garda stations in the southern region along with three other crew members arrested earlier in the investigation.

Warning shots were fired during a dramatic military operation off the Cork coast on Tuesday when military personel forcefully boarded the Panamanian registered bulk cargo vessel MV MATTHEW where they discovered an estimated €157m worth of cocaine.

The seizure was the result of a multi-agency operation comprising members of the Revenue Customs Service, Naval Service, and An Garda Síochána.

Two helicopters were involved in the operation which saw army rangers fast-rope onto the ship's deck after a number of warning shots were fired.

The ship had been under observation since 22 September as it waited to rendezvous with a second ship, a fishing trawler, which later ran ashore on the Wexford coast.

Gardaí confirmed yesterday that the second ship is “still offshore” and is yet to be boarded. When it is recovered, it will become a crime scene, gardaí said.

It is understood the MV Matthew attempted to flee to international waters and did not comply with directions issued by Irish defense forces which lead to the ship being taken by force.

Speaking at a press briefing yesterday morning, Assistant Garda Commissioner Justin Kelly confirmed that there may be further arrests and further search operations as the investigation proceeds.

Commander Tony Geraghty of the Irish Navy said the shots fired were not directed at the ship and that there is no current evidence to indicate that the crew were armed.

He said the ship had tried to alter its course while army rangers were attempting to fast-rope to the deck from one of the helicopters.

Commander Geraghty also confirmed that Tuesday's operation was the first time Irish army rangers had been deployed in such a way.

Garda Commissioner Kelly said it is inevitable that more and more big shipments will be intercepted in Ireland and across Europe as cocaine production in South America and demand in Europe both continue to grow.

He also confirmed that a number of Irish criminal organisations could have been involved in the shipment and that the seized drugs would most likely have been further cut down and distributed amongst a number of international crime groups.

He said large seizures are being seen across Europe, particularly in Antrerp and Rotterdam.

"There is a glut of cocaine on the market," said Commissioner Kelly.

"There's no large shipment like this coming into our waters or transiting across our country without an Irish organised criminal group being involved in it," he added.