Two yachtsmen from Jersey are facing a total of 17 years in prison after they were caught attempting to sail 250 kilos of cocaine to the UK.
David Romano, 57, and Michael Ashford, 42, both from Jersey, were arrested as part of a joint operation in the Caribbean involving the National Crime Agency (NCA), Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the French authorities.
Their yacht, the SY Hygeia of Halsa, was boarded by French Customs Coast Guard off Martinique on 3 November as it began a trans-Atlantic crossing.
On board they found around quarter of a tonne of cocaine which, when cut and sold, is likely to have had a UK street value in the region of £40 million.
The interception was prompted by an NCA/MPS investigation into a London-based organised crime group believed to be involved in the large scale importation of drugs to the UK.
NCA officers in the UK and abroad liaised with international law enforcement partners in Venezuela, the Eastern Caribbean, Jamaica and the USA to track the vessel.
The French Customs and police investigation services DNRED and OCRTIS were then involved in making the seizure. Romano and Ashford were on board the vessel when it was intercepted.
On 2 January they appeared before a court in Fort de France, Martinique, where a judge sentenced Romano to ten years in prison and Ashford to seven years.
Hank Cole, the NCA’s head of international operations, said: ‘Had we not intervened these drugs would have ended up being sold on the streets of London.
‘Drug trafficking is an international issue so our response has to be the same, co-operating with law enforcement colleagues across the globe.
‘That co-operation led to this shipment being taken out before it could reach Britain and it shows how our international work has a direct impact on protecting communities here in the UK.’
Detective Superintendent Neil Thompson, from the MPS Organised Crime Command, said: ‘Working alongside the NCA, it is clear that the drugs recovered would have been distributed throughout the streets of London and beyond, generating further criminality and fuelling gang activity.
‘These sentences show that there is no criminal out there that is beyond our reach – if you deal in drugs in any scale we will find you and you will face the consequences of your actions.’
The NCA works in close coordination on matters of maritime security with the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) and the European Maritime Analysis Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) in Lisbon, Portugal.
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