Wednesday 21 March 2018

Irish fishing boat skipper convicted of trying to smuggle €92m worth of cocaine

Claire Hayhurst

An Irish fishing boat skipper has been convicted of trying to smuggle more than €92 million of cocaine into the UK.

The haul, weighing 939kg and up to 70% pure, was the biggest single seizure of cocaine in the country last year.

Michael McDermott (68) from Co Waterford, was convicted of drug importation offences following a week-long trial at Bristol Crown Court.

His shipmates David Pleasants (57) of Peppercorn Walk, Grimsby, and Gerald Van de Kooij (27) of Amersfoort, Netherlands, previously admitted the offences.

All three were arrested by National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border Force officers on August 18 last year. They will be sentenced on April 6.

After the case, Mike Stepney, director of national operations at Border Force, said: "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."

Two Border Force cutters, the HMC Seeker and HMC Searcher, tracked McDermott's vessel the MV Bianca via radar for more than 24 hours.

This followed intelligence from the NCA that it was carrying drugs.

The Bianca was intercepted as it entered UK territorial waters off the coast of Cornwall and officers boarded, detaining the crew.

During a search in Falmouth, Border Force teams located bales of cocaine hidden under bags of sand and gravel in the boat's fish hold.

There were 38 bales in total, each weighing between 25 and 30kg. It took around two days to remove the drugs from the vessel.

Forensic experts found that the cocaine was between 60 and 70% pure. If cut to street purity, it was worth almost £84m when sold in the UK.

McDermott denied the charge against him, claiming that he knew there were drugs on board but had been forced into shipping them.

He initially denied knowing the two men he was arrested with.

Investigators were able to establish that he had bought the Bianca in Whitstable, Kent for £17,000 - paying in cash weeks before his arrest

He told the seller he planned to sail to Spain and use the vessel for diving and chartered angling trips.

The boat was then taken to Ramsgate for work to be carried out on it before it set sail.

Navigation records show it sailed through the English Channel and out into the Atlantic before turning round and heading back towards Cornwall.

Investigators believe it was at the turnaround point, south of Ireland, that the Bianca took the cocaine on board from another vessel.

Press Association

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