A British man Andrew Cole was sentenced at court on Thursday after he confessed to trying to smuggle two tonnes of cocaine with a street value worth up to $150million into the UK.
Cole was travelling on a luxury yacht, KAHU, when it was stopped about 80 miles off the coast of Plymouth on September 9 2021.
In an operation led by the National Crime Agency and supported by Border Force and the Australian Federal Police, 33-year-old Cole was found to be the link between senior members of an international organised crime group and a UK group who were planning for the arrival of the drugs near the English Channel.
The operation saw the Border Force Maritime Command’s 42-metre cutter ‘Searcher’ and 19-metre coastal patrol vessel ‘Alert’ covertly identify and monitor the movements of the yacht.
Cole, , of Norton Road in Stockton, admitted smuggling the Class A drugs in January, and five other men, the captain and four crew members, were acquitted by a jury.
In the months leading up to the interception of the Jamaican-flagged yacht, Cole was involved in planning the smuggling operation and travelled to Costa Rica and Panama in May 2021. In July he then flew to Miami, and the following day to Barbados, where the yacht arrive on July 29.
During the journey across the Atlantic, Cole had control of a Samsung mobile phone which he and the crew used to contact others. The phone’s messages show the KAHU was to rendezvous with another vessel coming from Suriname in South America and take possession of the drugs.
Cole was listed as crew on the manifest, but his role was to ensure safe receipt, passage and transfer of the cocaine to a crew who were going to come out from the UK to take delivery of it near the English Channel. On 28 August, Cole sent a message, saying: “Count is complete. 2000 bits,” which meant 2,000 kilos of cocaine had been handed over to the KAHU. The cocaine was between 60% and 80% pure.
Cole, who agreed to provide further text updates to one of the organisers using the name Carlos or Rembrandt, sent another message saying he was looking forward to getting back to the UK and “making you proud boss”. He said in the message that he and the crew were in good spirits.
Cole provided accomplices with a drawing to show how the transfer to the offloading crew would happen, and that he would go into the water from the KAHU’s swimming platform to assist. After the handover, Cole planned to leave with the offloading crew and return to the UK, but the KAHU would sail on to Rotterdam.
As Cole and the crew realised a Border Force vessel was tailing them, a text message was sent from the mobile: “We are getting boarded.” The response, which was unread, said: “Throw sat-phones what you use. Throw all phones. Did you copy, throw all phones.” A failed attempt was made to smash the phone, which provided a running commentary on the drug smuggling operation.
Gavin Heckles, NCA operations manager, said: “This was a huge haul of cocaine, which we and our law enforcement partners have prevented coming into the UK drugs market and being sold across UK communities, where it would have fuelled more crime. “We thank colleagues from Border Force and Australian Federal Police who were both key in seizing these drugs and the jailing of Andrew Cole.”
Cole was the only person to be convicted of smuggling the two tonnes of cocaine after five Nicaraguan co-accused were cleared.
Four sailors were acquitted by a jury of trying to bring drugs into the country before the authorities seized the KAHU in the English Channel. A similar charge against a fifth defendant, was also dropped.