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Fisherman who smuggled cocaine worth £84m to be sentenced

A fishing boat skipper who tried to smuggle more than £80 million of cocaine into the UK will be sentenced.

The haul, weighing 939kg and up to 70% pure, was the biggest single seizure of cocaine in the country last year.

Michael McDermott, 68, from Waterford, Ireland, was convicted of drug importation offences following a week-long trial at Bristol Crown Court.

His shipmates David Pleasants, 57, of Peppercorn Walk, Grimsby, and Gerald Van de Kooij, 27, of Amersfoort, Netherlands, previously admitted the offences.

All three were arrested by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border Force officers on August 18 last year. They will be sentenced at Bristol Crown Court.

Speaking after McDermott's trial, Mark Harding, senior investigating officer from the NCA's border investigation team, said: "This was a huge quantity of cocaine, the biggest single seizure made in the UK in 2016.

"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 organised criminals to bring drugs to Britain.

"His was a crucial link in a chain that leads from cocaine manufacturers in South America to drug dealers in the UK.

"In stopping this consignment, we have prevented further criminality by the gangs who bring violence and exploitation to our streets."

The Bianca was intercepted as it entered UK territorial waters off the coast of Cornwall and officers boarded, detaining the crew.

They found 38 bales of cocaine, each weighing between 25 and 30kg, hidden under bags of sand and gravel in the boat's fish hold.

The cocaine was between 60 and 70% pure and, if cut to street purity, would be worth almost £84 million when sold in the UK.

Investigators were able to establish that McDermott had bought the Bianca in Whitstable, Kent, for £17,000, paying in cash weeks before his arrest

He told the seller he planned to sail to Spain and use the vessel for diving and chartered angling trips.

The boat was taken to Ramsgate for work to be carried out on it before it set sail.

Navigation records show it sailed through the English Channel and out into the Atlantic before turning around and heading back towards Cornwall.

Investigators believe it was at the turnaround point, south of Ireland, that the Bianca took the cocaine on board from another vessel.

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