Belfast Telegraph

Father and son among drug suspects

A father and son are among five suspects arrested over an alleged plot to smuggle a £100 million (125 million euro) cocaine haul into Britain during a nine-week transatlantic voyage on a luxury yacht.

The 70-year-old skipper of the Makayabella was one of three men on board the vessel laden down with a tonne of the narcotics when it was stormed by the Irish Navy in the Atlantic Ocean earlier this week.

His son, aged 47, was among two men from West Yorkshire who were detained in follow-up operations in England spearheaded by the UK National Crime Agency and he remains in custody.

The family ties emerged as investigators seized a second vessel today in north Wales, a 25ft motor boat called Sea Breeze, which they believe was to be used to ferry the drugs ashore.

The boat, which came under surveillance in the latter stages of the suspected drug trafficking attempt, was found at a marina at Pwllheli, a small coastal town on the Llyn Peninsula in Gwynedd. It is now being forensically examined.

Investigators have urged a sixth suspect to give himself up. They are hunting a 29-year-old man from the Halton Moor area of Leeds.

While the investigation is ongoing, it is suspected a UK-based six-man gang behind the botched smuggling bid was split into two - three men to sail the contraband thousands of miles across the Atlantic and three to pick it up from the yacht on a motor boat offshore.

The tactic, commonly used to evade authorities, is known as coopering.

It is now believed the Makayabella set sail from the Carribbean as far back as mid-July, meaning it was at sea for nine weeks when armed naval officers took the crew by surprise under the cover of darkness in the early hours of Tuesday.

The yacht was about 200 nautical miles off the south-west coast of Ireland in an area known as the western frontier into Europe.

Its sails were in bad condition and its engine failed shortly after the interception, forcing the navy to tow it ashore.

The vessel was said to be so packed with cocaine, bales of the drug were being used as makeshift furniture.

One line of inquiry is whether the yacht was taken on a tour of Caribbean islands for some weeks, to put authorities off any scent before making the gruelling trek across the Atlantic.

It is thought to have been loaded with the drugs off Venuezuela and it also may have stopped in Trinidad.

The multi-national effort to intercept the yacht was launched after both UK and French authorities received intelligence of a suspected trafficking ring. Irish authorities were brought in as the best-placed navy to capture the vessel.

The 70-year-old skipper, an experienced sailor, and his two-man crew, aged 35 and 28 and also from West Yorkshire, remain in custody in Ireland since being formally arrested when brought ashore on Wednesday night.

They can be held for seven days.

A 43-year-old man has been released on bail in West Yorkshire, where the skipper's son is still being questioned on suspicion of involvement.

Some 41 bales of cocaine, bound for the north of England as part of an alleged plan to land it in north Wales, were offloaded from the vessel in Cork harbour yesterday.

While the five suspects are being questioned, and a sixth is being pursued, investigators are also turning their attentions to any telephone and computer records as well as other evidence uncovered in the huge operation.

One security source said this trawl could well lead to further arrests in the near future.

"I don't think the buck will just stop here," the source said.

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