Three men who were caught on a boat carrying one and a half tonnes of cannabis off the coast of Newhaven have been jailed for nine years each, the National Crime Agency has said.
Border Force cutter HMC Searcher intercepted the 40 foot German-registered yacht Mellon around ten miles south of Newhaven on July 18.
The agency said 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 agency said.
The agency said 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 £4.5 million. Around 7,000 euros in cash was also seized, the agency said.
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 agency said.
The trio were charged with importing a class B drug and entered guilty pleas at Hove Crown Court on August 13, the agency said. On Friday (October 3) they were each sentenced to nine years in prison, the agency said.
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.”