Five men have been convicted of trying to import 1.4 tonnes of cocaine – with a street value of £112million – which was hidden in a 60ft sailing yacht heading for the UK.
UK nationals Nigel Clark (64), and Dean Waters (59), who had been residing in Estepona, Spain, as well as Raymond Dijkstra (27), from the Netherlands, were found guilty today at Bristol Crown Court following a five week trial.
Estonian Richard Must (49) and Latvian Voldermars Gailis (21) pleaded guilty to all charges at an earlier hearing.
As part of an National Crime Agency-led operation, working with partners including Border Force, Devon and Cornwall Police, Maritime Analysis & Operations Centre (Narcotics) MAOC(N), the Irish Navy and the Irish Air Corps, the Border Force cutter HMC Vigilant intercepted the yacht, SY Nomad, on 29th August 2018 as it was sailing towards the UK having left Suriname, just south of Venezuela, at the beginning of the month.
The yacht was escorted into Newlyn Harbour in Cornwall and the three men on board – Must, Gailis and Dijkstra -were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking offences.
Officers from the National Crime Agency and the Border Force Deep Rummage team boarded the vessel and searches began. Within an hour, they discovered more than 1,400 kilo blocks of cocaine hidden inside locked storage containers on the vessel.
The estimated wholesale of this amount of cocaine is £44,896,000, with an approximate street value of £112 million.
Nigel Clark and Dean Waters were arrested later that day by NCA officers who had been observing their activity over a period of two days.
Waters had previously purchased a RHIB – Brenda’s Pet – which he arranged to be transported from Spain to Bristol and onwards to Southampton. On the 28th of August, Waters towed the RHIB towards Cornwall, meeting up with Clark in Launceston. They then travelled in convoy to Hayle in Cornwall.
On the 29th August, Clark was observed in Hayle, staying with the RHIB, but Waters returned to Dorset. There he purchased a GPS device, thermal cameras and other maritime equipment, including a repair kit for the RHIB and a solar charged portable inflator.
Officers believed the plan was for the RHIB to meet the SY Nomad at sea and transfer the drugs over for onward dissemination to the UK.
Following their arrests, searches of vehicles owned by Clark and Waters resulted in the discovery of additional electronic devices including encrypted mobile phones, the thermal camera and the GPS device Waters had purchased the previous day, a significant quantity of cash and a registration document for the SY Nomad in Clark’s name.
All five men were charged with conspiring to import cocaine and conspiring to conceal cocaine within a ship and remanded in custody.
NCA Senior Investigating Officer Ty Surgeon said:
“This is another fantastic example of law enforcement and partner agencies working together, sharing intelligence and conducting operational activity to stop the importation of a huge amount of cocaine into the UK.
“The main instigators Clark and Waters – both of whom have previous convictions for drug trafficking offences – knew exactly what they were doing and had planned every part of the drug smuggling attempt.
“This case should act as a deterrence to anyone who thinks they can import or smuggle drugs into the UK.”
NCA Deputy Director Matt Horne said:
“This intelligence-led investigation resulted in the seizure of a significant quantity of cocaine that would have made its way to towns and cities across the UK.
“This was a highly profitable commodity with an estimated street value of £112million. Making a profit is the motive for organised criminals and this interdiction would have really hit them in the pocket – disrupting their activities and damaging their reputation at the same time.
“We know there are links between drug supply and violent crime and this seizure, along with the two tonnes recovered in similar circumstances at the same harbour in July last year, demonstrate the NCA’s role in helping to prevent that”.
Gordon Scarratt, head of Border Force Maritime said:
“The Border Force cutter’s interception of the yacht was a crucial intervention in this successful operation, leading to the search of the vessel, the discovery of a vast quantity of dangerous drugs and ultimately the men’s arrests. Our maritime crews play a key role in patrolling the UK’s coastline and intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies ensures this is done to maximum effect.”
The men have been remanded in custody until sentencing which will be on Tuesday 26 March at Bristol Crown Court.