Drug smuggler caught with £130m of cocaine on yacht jailed
A drug trafficker who tried to import £130million worth of cocaine into Europe aboard a yacht has been jailed for 16 years.
Maarten Pieterse, 61, was found with more than two tonnes of the Class A drug on his boat SY Marcia in the English Channel last year.
Border Force officers from HMC Vigilant seized the Belgium-bound craft on 18 July 2018 and took it to the Cornish port of Newlyn. Searches revealed a hidden compartment at the back of the yacht, crewed only by Pieterse and a co-defendant who was found not guilty of the conspiracy.
The haul, containing 1,671 blocks of cocaine worth more than £130million at street value, took Border Force and National Crime Agency officers well into the next day to document.
Anne McCracken of the CPS Organised Crime Division said: “This was drug-smuggling on a truly staggering scale. The two tonnes of cocaine concealed aboard the yacht were tested at between 74 to 83 per cent purity, which would have made it some of the strongest available had it reached the market.
“Cocaine is a major source of revenue for ruthless organised crime groups and causes misery to people throughout the world.
“Maarten Pieterse exploited this deadly trade for personal gain, using the Azores as an ideal staging post for the lucrative smuggling route between South America and Europe.”
The Rotterdam-registered Marcia, purchased by Pieterse for 40,000 euros in 2012, had been converted to hold extra diesel so it could travel longer distances.
Building the case
The Crown’s case was that Pieterse took a 1,300 nautical mile deviation into the mid-Atlantic for the purposes of ‘coopering’. That is, meeting fellow smugglers at sea to transfer illegal cargo between boats.
Data from a satellite communication device found aboard the boat revealed a 22-day gap between it leaving Gran Canaria and arriving in the Azores on 5 July 2018 - significantly longer than the journey should have taken.
The prosecution also presented messages sent via satellite to a Dutch mobile phone, which referred to a “huge birthday cake with lots of candles” for the 93rd birthday reunion of an ‘Auntie Ann’ at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. There was no such party - this was code for criminal transactions.
Notes to editors
- Maarten Pieterse (DOB: 25/11/58) pleaded guilty on 21 September 2018 to being knowingly concerned in the carrying and concealing of a controlled drug on a ship at Bristol Crown Court. His co-defendant Emile Schoemaker was found not guilty of the same offence in June
- Anne McCracken is a Specialist Prosecutor with the CPS International Justice and Organised Crime Division