Boat crew convicted after massive seizure of cocaine off UK coast

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Three men have been found guilty of taking part in one of Britain’s largest-ever cocaine smuggling operations.

The men were on a boat that was boarded by National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border Force officers off the Cornish coast in August 2016.

David Pleasants and Dutchman Gerald Van de Kooij pleaded guilty to importing cocaine worth an estimated £80 million (€92 million) at the start of their trial.

A jury at Bristol Crown Court on Thursday found the boat’s skipper, Michael McDermott, guilty of drug smuggling.

The three will be sentenced at the same court next month.

In what is thought to be the third-largest seizure of the drug in UK waters, NCA and Border Force officers discovered 38 bales of cocaine concealed beneath bags of ravel and sand in the ship’s fish hold on 18 August last year.

The men are believed to have taken the drugs on board after transferring them from another boat south of the Irish coast before attempting to bring them into the UK.

Border Force officers had kept the vessel under surveillance for 24 hours before they intercepted it after a tip-off from the NCA.

Mike Stepney, Director National Operations at UK Border Force, commented: “The huge haul of dangerous drugs that Michael McDermott and his crew sought to sneak into the UK had the potential to do untold harm to countless people around the country.

“Officers from Border Force and the NCA used sophisticated intelligence and technical expertise to track this vessel and intercept it before its illicit cargo could ever be unloaded.

“The prosecution of this crooked captain and his criminal crew underlines once again how our close work with partners like the NCA is successfully keeping communities in the UK safe from a range of threats.”

Mark Harding, Senior Investigating Officer from the NCA’s Border Investigation Team, said: “Michael McDermott… was a crucial link in a chain that leads from cocaine manufacturers in South America to drug dealers in the UK.

“In stopping this consignment we have prevented further criminality by the gangs who bring violence and exploitation to our streets.”

In August last year, after being found guilty of attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated €575 million into Britain.

Turkish nationals Mumin Sahin and Emin Ozmen were sentenced after customs officers seized three tonnes of the drug from a tug boat off the coast of Scotland in April 2015.

The crew of the MV Hamal were said to be involved in a sophisticated international cocaine trafficking ring that smuggled the drug from Turkey to the UK via the Canary Islands, Spain and South America.