Irish Police Arrest Six in Drug Smuggling Investigation on Navibulgar Ship

cocaine seized from bulker
Navibulgar's Verila is detained in Ireland as part of the ongoing concaine smuggling investigation (Navibulgar file photo)

Published Dec 22, 2023 1:28 PM by The Maritime Executive


Irish police confirmed on Friday morning that five individuals have been arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into a large quantity of cocaine seized aboard a bulker arriving in the Port of Foynes near Limerick on December 19. The five men, aged 50, 46, 44, 41, and 35 years, were arrested for the offense of importation of controlled drugs the police announced while also confirming that the Navibulgar vessel Verila (32,165 dwt) is detained as the search led by officials from Revenue Customs Service is ongoing. Late on Friday it was reported that a sixth individual was also taken into custody as the investigation continues.

The investigation is retracting the vessel’s movements with reports that the ship which had arrived from Montreal, Canada loaded with a cargo of grain had previously been in South America. Her AIS track shows she had departed Santos, Brazil at the beginning of November. The media reports cite unnamed sources from the police saying the size of the seizure, 300 kg, indicates a well-organized smuggling operation.

The bundles were reported by the Irish newspaper The Journal to have been found in a room in the vessel’s accommodation block. They were wrapped in plastic with lifejackets and GPS devices leading to the suspicion that they were ready to be thrown overboard. Some reports are saying the bundles were too large to be floated while the police are reportedly trying to determine when and where they were to be offloaded.

Floating the drugs to be retrieved by other boats is a common tactic used by smugglers. Irish media reports that smaller bundles washed ashore on the shoreline at Donegal in July. That seizure was reportedly valued at €4.5 million compared to €21 million for Tuesday’s seizure.

Officials from Ireland’s Revenue Service supported by the police and other units began searching the vessel shortly after it arrived. Media reports are that they were acting on a tip from international law enforcement including a maritime narcotics operations center in Portugal.

Navigation Maritime Bulgare JSC (Navibulgar) issued a statement on December 21 saying it fully supports the fight against drug trafficking. They said, if requested, they would cooperate and stated that they hoped any guilty person will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Media reports from Ireland said there were 20 crewmembers from Bulgaria and Ukraine aboard the vessel. The police had previously said they were being detained and were being voluntarily interviewed. The police reportedly have also seized electronic devices and cell phones and are reviewing their content and contacts for possible leads.

“If this is duly proved in the proceedings, it will not only constitute a serious crime, but also a gross violation of the values, internal rules, policies, and procedures of Navigation Maritime Bulgare JSC,” the company said in its statement. As of December 21, the company said it had not received any information but that they were aware of an “ongoing special operation.”

The substances found aboard the vessel were sent for analysis with some reports suggesting it was a high-grade cocaine that would have been mixed before distribution. The investigation is looking to determine if the cocaine was destined for Ireland or possibly elsewhere in Europe.

In September, the Revenue Service reported the discovery of 2,253kg of cocaine worth €157 million, the largest cocaine seizure by weight in Irish history, aboard another bulker, the Mathew. Police initially arrested three men individuals and then later the captain of the ship. A total of seven crewmembers were ultimately charged and are awaiting trial. Ireland moved in November to seize the vessel which appeared to be abandoned by its owners.