The haul, intercepted off the East Sussex coast, has an estimated street value of £4.5million

Three men who were caught on a yacht carrying one and a half tonnes of cannabis in the English Channel have been jailed for nine years each.

On 18 July 2014 the Border Force cutter HMC Searcher intercepted the 40-foot German-registered yacht Mellon around 10 miles south of Newhaven.

German nationals Hermann Josef Deuss, 63, and Willi Heinz Reichling, 57, along with Austrian national Walter Untermayer, 64, were on board.

During an initial examination of the vessel officers found what appeared to be a one-metre wide void space running the width of the yacht behind a bulkhead. An access hole to the secret compartment was concealed behind a mirror.

The Mellon was escorted into Newhaven and a full forensic search took place.

Officers recovered 69 hessian wrapped bales of cannabis resin from the boat, with a total weight of around one and a half tonnes. It is estimated the haul would have had a street value of around £4.5million.

Around 7,000 euros in cash was also seized.

Deuss, Reichling and Untermayer were arrested and interviewed by investigators from the National Crime Agency. They claimed to have
sailed from Spain, via Portugal, and were planning to travel back to Bremen in Germany.

The trio were charged with importing a class B drug and entered guilty pleas at Hove Crown Court on 13 August.

On Friday, 3 October, they were each sentenced to nine years in prison.

‘A massive haul’

Tim Fleming, from the National Crime Agency‘s Border Policing Command, said: ‘This was a massive haul of cannabis and an excellent interception by our Border Force colleagues.

While the destination for the shipment was elsewhere I have no doubt that a good proportion of these drugs would have ended up back on the UK streets.

‘Our investigations are continuing with a number of international partners.

‘Cases like this demonstrate how we continue to have a significant impact on organised crime groups involved in this kind of smuggling.’

Border Force regional director Carole Upshall said: ‘The message this case sends out couldn’t be clearer. No matter what route  criminals take to try and breach our border controls, we have the capability to stop them.

‘Our fleet of cutters operates 24 hours a day, responding to intelligence and patrolling the length and breadth of the UK. The cutters play a key role in intercepting and deterring shipments of drugs and other prohibited goods, as well as criminal gangs who attempt to
smuggle people into the country.

‘Working with law enforcement colleagues including the NCA we are determined to do all we can to prevent drug smuggling and put those
responsible behind bars.’

Pictures: Willi Heinz Reichling, Hermann Josef Deuss and Walter Untermayer; the secret compartment and access hole; the bales of cannabis, the yacht Mellon. Credit: National Crime Agency