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Men face arrest after drugs seizure

Three men, believed to be British, will be arrested later this evening after the Irish Navy stormed a yacht suspected of carrying around 80 million euro (£62.5 million) worth of cocaine.

The 60 foot vessel was intercepted some 200 nautical miles off Mizen Head - Ireland's most southerly point - in the early hours of yesterday morning but details have just emerged.

It is understood the men on board put up no resistance to the armed Irish Naval team who had launched on smaller rib boats from the offshore patrol vessel, the LE Niamh. Another major vessel, the LE Roisin, provided back up during the operation.

Early indications have put the suspected one tonne haul of cocaine at a street value of 80 million euro, with some estimates suggesting it could be even higher. If confirmed, it would be one of biggest such drugs seizures at sea this year.

The vessel is being towed to Haulbowline naval base where it is expected to arrive at around 9pm this evening. The three men will be arrested by the Garda as they arrive on shore.

The vessel has been identified as the Makayabella.

A joint task force, involving the Irish Navy, Revenue and the Garda, said the night-time covert surveillance operation was carried out in challenging conditions.

The interception followed intelligence from the National Crime Agency in the UK and the French custom service, through the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre based in Lisbon.

Ireland's Defence Minister Simon Coveney congratulated all the agencies involved in what he described as a highly successful drug interdiction operation.

"As Minister for Defence, I wish to congratulate the Naval Service for its pivotal role in the success of this operation and, in particular, to commend the Officers Commanding LE Niamh and LE Roisin and their respective crews," he said.

"I also wish to acknowledge the role of the Air Corps in providing top-cover support during the operation."

The passage around the south west coast of Ireland has been well used in recent times by drugs smugglers bringing shipments from South America and Africa into Europe.

In 2007, a record 440 million euro worth of cocaine was seized in Dunlough Bay in west Cork when a UK gang botched an attempt to bring the massive haul ashore on a smaller boat and capsized in rough weather.

Most of the group, including two Englishmen, were arrested in follow up operations and eventually given lengthy prison sentences.

Just a year later, a 400 million euro haul was intercepted on the Dances With Waves yacht about 150 miles off Mizen Head.

Three British men on board were later jailed for 10 years each for their part in the plot.

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