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Two Dutch men attempted to smuggle two tonnes of cocaine worth more an £130 million into Europe on a sailing yacht, a court heard.
Border Force officers intercepted the SY Marcia in the western approach to the English Channel, where it had allegedly been heading to Belgium with its cargo.
The boat was taken to the Cornish port of Newlyn, where officers discovered a hidden compartment on board – concealing 1,161 blocks of cocaine weighing 2.1 tonnes.
Bristol Crown Court heard the two men on the yacht – Maarten Pieterse, 59, and Emile Schoemaker, 45 – were charged with being knowingly concerned in the carrying or concealing of a controlled drug on a ship contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Act.
A jury was told Pieterse, the owner of the ship, has admitted the offence, while Schoemaker has pleaded not guilty and denies knowing the cocaine was on board.
Richard Posner, prosecuting, said the Crown’s case “in a nutshell” was that Schoemaker, of Antwerp, was a drugs smuggler.
Mr Posner told the jury that a team of Border Force officers from HMC Vigilant boarded the Marcia on July 18 last year.
“The boat arrived at Newlyn harbour the following morning,” Mr Posner said.
“Mr Pieterse and Mr Schoemaker were taken into custody and taken to a nearby police station.
“Meanwhile, other officers searched the boat and found the hidden compartment underneath some matting at the back of the boat.
“It took officers the best part of a day and a half to unload the cocaine. In total, 1,161 blocks of compressed cocaine weighing a total of 2,117kg – 2.1 tonnes – had been discovered.”
Mr Posner said data found on the yacht showed it had arrived in the Azores from the Netherlands in May 2017, with Schoemaker listed as a member of the crew.
It then headed to the Canary Islands and moved around there until August 2017, when it sailed to the Azores and stayed there for the winter.
Marcia left for the Canaries in May 2018 and was in that vicinity in June 2018.
There is no evidence of it reaching land until the following month, July, when it arrived back in the Azores.
Messages were found on a Garmin inReach Explorer, a satellite communication device, left on a desk in Shoemaker’s cabin of the boat.
These included messages between a man called “Hans” – from the Marcia – to a woman called “Wendy” using a Dutch mobile phone.
Mr Posner said that between June 14 and 21, when the yacht was in the Atlantic, a number of messages were exchanged.
“There is fragmented talk of a brass band being ready to go, the 93rd birthday party of someone purporting to be Auntie Ann, a reunion at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam on Friday 22nd June 2018 and a lot of candles,” he told the jury.
He suggested this was in fact a plan for the yacht to receive 93 bags containing “vast quantities” of cocaine on June 22.
“To move that large and expensive a shipment on the high seas is hard work,” Mr Posner said.
“It requires a line between both boats and at a safe distance so as not to damage either or both vessels beyond repair to transfer this multimillion-pound investment carefully.”
He said it would require “all hands on deck” to load the yacht with the cocaine and hide packages in the secret compartment.
“Both men needed to work together to load that much cocaine onto their yacht on the high seas. They were acting together,” Mr Posner added.
Shoemaker claims to know nothing about the cocaine and insists he is not a drugs smuggler.
“He says he was just an innocent man on a working holiday, in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr Posner said.
The trial continues.