Jailed drugs smuggler used luxury yacht for £160m cocaine plot

A British man has been jailed for 18 years after admitting trying to smuggle £160 million worth of cocaine into the UK aboard a luxury yacht

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Andrew Cole, 33, from Stockton on Tees, was aboard the yacht, Kahu, when it was stopped 80 miles off the coast of Plymouth in an operation led by the National Crime Agency.

The UK Border Force and the Australian Federal Police were also involved in the operation which recovered more than two tonnes of cocaine from the yacht.

Cole was the link between senior members of an international organised crime group and a UK group, which had planned to take delivery of the drugs near the English Channel.

On 9 September last year, Border Force Maritime Command’s 42-metre cutter ‘Searcher’ and the coastal patrol vessel ‘Alert’ had covertly identified and monitored the Kahu’s movements.

Andrew Cole, 33, of Norton Road, Stockton on Tees
Andrew Cole, 33, of Norton Road, Stockton on Tees

In international waters north of Guernsey, specialist National Crime Agency and Border Force officers carried out a water-borne interception and boarding of the Kahu.

As officers searched the vessel they found the massive haul of cocaine.

Cole admitted smuggling the Class A drugs in January this year.

Five other men, the captain and four crew members, were acquitted by a jury.

In the months before the Jamaican-flagged Kahu sailed, Cole had been involved in planning the smuggling operation, and travelled to Costa Rica and Panama in May 2021.

In early July he flew from Panama to Miami and then to Barbados, where the Kahu arrived on 29 July from Florida.

The Kahu cutter was stopped 80 miles off the coast of Plymouth
The Kahu cutter was stopped 80 miles off the coast of Plymouth

The luxury yacht rendezvoused with another vessel, which had carried the drugs from Suriname in South America.

Cole was listed as crew on the yacht's manifest.

But authorities say his only role was to ensure the safe and successful passage of the drugs.

On 28 August Cole sent a message: “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 sent other text updates to one of the organisers using the names Carlos or Rembrandt.

In one text he wrote that he was looking forward to getting back to the UK and “making you proud boss”.

Stash of drugs found on the Kahu
Stash of drugs found on the Kahu

He said in the message that he and the crew were in good spirits.

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 satphones 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.

Today, at Exeter Crown Court, Cole was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

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."