If he had made it through, it would’ve been the score of a lifetime - both for him and the organization he was working for. Instead, Yesterday, 68-year-old Michael McDermott (photo above), a boat skipper from Ireland, was convicted of trying to smuggle 939 kilograms of cocaine worth an estimated £84 million pounds into the United Kingdom. It was the single biggest cocaine seizure in the country in 2016.
British authorities arrested McDermott on August 18, 2016, alongside shipmates 57-year-old David Pleasants and 27-year-old Gerald Van de Kooij. The boat, “The Bianca,” had been targeted after authorities received a tip that it was shipping drugs. It was intercepted as it entered British territorial waters off the coast of Cornwall, and a joint team of NCA and Border Force officers boarded the vessel, detaining the crew, and moving on to do an extensive search of the vessel.
Specialist Border Force teams located bales of cocaine hidden under bags of sand and gravel in the boat’s fish hold. There were 38 bales in total each weighing between 25 and 30 kilos. It took around two days to remove the drugs from the vessel. In total the haul weighed 939 kilos. NCA forensic experts found that the cocaine was between 60 and 70 percent pure. They estimate that if cut to street purity and sold on the streets of Great Britain it would have had a potential value of nearly £84 million.
Confronted with such evidence, both Pleasants and Van de Kooij pleaded guilty to drug charges, while McDermott denied the charge, claiming he knew there were drugs on board but had been forced into shipping them. He initially claimed not to know the two men he was arrested with.
It wasn’t McDermott’s first arrest. He had a previous conviction for drug trafficking, where he had admitted being paid to sail a boat from Spain containing cannabis.
Investigators were able to establish that he had purchased “The Bianca” in Whitstable, Kent, paying £17,000 in cash just weeks before his arrest, telling the seller that he planned to sail to Spain and use it for diving and chartered angling trips. The bill of sale was also signed by David Pleasants using a false name.
The trial heard how the boat was then taken to Ramsgate for work to be carried out on it. Pleasants was with McDermott while that happened, with the two men sleeping on the boat. Van de Kooij had flown in from the Netherlands on August 12, a few days before the trio set off on “The Bianca” from Ramsgate.
Navigation records show the boat sailed through the English Channel and out into the Atlantic, before turning around and heading back towards Cornwall. Investigators believe it was at this turnaround point, south of Ireland, that the Bianca took the cocaine on board from another vessel.
“His was a crucial link in a chain that leads from cocaine manufacturers in South America to drug dealers in the United Kingdom. In stopping this consignment, we have prevented further criminality by the gangs who bring violence and exploitation to our streets,” Mark Harding, senior investigating officer from the NCA’s border investigation team, said.
“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 organized criminals to bring drugs to Britain.”
All three men will be sentenced on Thursday April 6.
Get the latest on organized crime and the Mafia at Gangsters Inc.'s news section.
Copyright © Gangsters Inc.