Saturday 1 October 2016

Yacht seized in €350m cocaine raid sold for €70,000 at auction

Published 30/07/2015 | 10:25

The yacht Makayabella
The yacht Makayabella

A YACHT seized by the Naval Service after a €350m cocaine seizure off the Irish coast was sold for €70,000 at public auction.

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The proceeds of the sale of the 29-year old Makayabella will go to the Exchequer but there are hopes the funds will be ring-fenced for either the Naval Service or Customs & Excise for offshore patrol equipment.

Cork auctioneer, Dominic Daly, sold the 21 metre Makayabella by public auction at the Carrigaline Court Hotel, Cork with a total of 22 bids for the yacht.

There was intense bidding over the six minute auction for the yacht with expressions of interest from the UK, New Zealand and France.

It was purchased, on behalf of an anonymous client, by Cork-based solicitor, Barry O'Meara.

"All I can say is that my client is an Irish resident and the yacht will be for his own personal use," he said.

Mr O'Meara said he had no idea how much his client intends to spend refurbishing the yacht or whether he intends to keep the name 'Makayabella'.

But he said the yacht's history and the fact it was seized off the Irish coast in a drugs operation was "not a factor" in the purchase for his client.

The yacht, which was sold 'as seen', will now require substantial refurbishment.

Two of the gardai who played a key role in last year's cocaine interdiction, Det Supt Sean Healy and Inspector Declan O'Sullivan, also attended the auction.

Despite the age of the French-designed and built yacht, Mr Daly said he felt it fetched a good price.

“She was built to quite an impressive design. She was a once-magnificent yacht,” he said.

The yacht, built in France in 1986 and boasting an aluminium hull, spent most of her career on charter duties in the Caribbean.

However, she made world headlines last September when she was intercepted by the Naval Service’s LE Niamh off the Cork coast following a multi-national anti-drugs operation featuring officials from five countries.

Since the Makayabella was boarded by armed Naval Service personnel, she has been kept in secure storage at the Haulbowline naval base in Cork.

A total of 1,025kg of cocaine was recovered from the hull of the Makayabella.

Tests found that the cocaine was of exceptionally high purity at 70pc and originated from Columbia.

The three bungling smugglers who pleaded guilty to drugs offences before Cork Circuit Criminal Court following the Makayabella interception are now serving prison terms totaling 26 years.

The group was arrested off the Irish coast after their support vessel ran out of petrol in the Irish Sea and they themselves ran out of food halfway across the Atlantic.

One member of the Makayabella crew was so upset over the lack of food he started using cocaine from one of the 41 bales on board to fend off hunger pangs.

Authorities had first become suspicious of the yacht's presence in the Caribbean after one crew member had to be rescued from a dinghy in early 2014 after getting high on cocaine.

Three UK nationals, John Powell (71), Benjamin Mellor (35) and Thomas Britteon (28), were jailed for a total of 26 years last April.

Powell of 10 Airedale Mews, Silsden, West Yorkshire, UK was jailed for

10 years despite his defence team saying a lengthy prison term was "akin to a life sentence" given his age and health problems.

Britteon of 120 Convamore Road, Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire, UK and Mellor of Manningham, Moringtom Villas, Bradford, Yorkshire, UK were both jailed for eight years.

In seven years, three drug seizures off the Cork coast – all of which involved ocean-going yachts which had visited the Caribbean and Central America – accounted for more than €1bn worth of cocaine.

In 2010, a second yacht seized after a successful drugs interdiction, Lucky Day, was also auctioned off.

In that auction, Mr Daly achieved a price of €58,000 for the catamaran from a Tipperary-based sailing enthusiast who said she planned to use the 12 metre twin-hulled vessel for Mediterranean cruising.

The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) said they were “very pleased” in 2010 with the €100,000-plus raised by the auction of the Lucky Day and other items seized as part of the record €440m Dunlough Bay cocaine seizure in 2007.

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