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Irish skipper jailed for 16 years over massive €94m cocaine seizure


Michael McDermott was jailed. Photo: PA

Michael McDermott was jailed. Photo: PA

Michael McDermott was jailed. Photo: PA

An Irish fishing boat skipper has been jailed for 16 years for his role in the biggest cocaine bust in Britain last year.

Michael McDermott (68), from Waterford, tried to smuggle more than €94m of cocaine into the UK.

The haul, weighing 939kg and up to 70pc pure, was the UK's biggest single seizure of cocaine last year.

McDermott was convicted of drug importation offences following a week-long trial at Bristol Crown Court.


His shipmates David Pleasants (57), from Grimsby, and Gerald Van de Kooij (27), from Holland, previously admitted the offences.

All three were arrested on August 18 last year.

McDermott was jailed for 16 years, Pleasants for 14 years and de Kooij for 12 years.

Speaking after McDermott's trial, Mark Harding, senior investigating officer from the National Crime Agency's border investigation team, said: "This was a huge quantity of cocaine, the biggest single seizure made in the UK in 2016.

"Michael McDermott used his specialist skills as a sailor to attempt to evade border controls.

"We provided solid evidence that led to his conviction and have taken out another means of transport used by organised criminals to bring drugs to Britain.

"His 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."

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

They found 38 bales of cocaine, each weighing between 25 and 30kg, hidden under bags of sand and gravel in the boat's fish hold.

The cocaine was between 60 and 70pc pure and, if cut to street purity, would be worth over €90m.

Investigators were able to establish that McDermott had bought the Bianca in Whitstable, Kent, for €20,000, 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 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 around 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.