A SMUGGLER who planned to drop a £160 million cargo of cocaine off the Isle of Wight has been jailed for 18 years.

Andrew Cole was the onboard organiser of the plot to bring two metric tonnes of drugs from the Caribbean to Britain aboard the 37-metre luxury yacht Kahu, which had been bought for $1 million for the purpose.

The boat left from Barbados in July last year and picked up the drugs in a transfer from a ship off Suriname, South America before crossing the Atlantic.

The plan was to float the 200 packages of cocaine in cargo nets held up by more than 100 life jackets when the 80 tonne Kahu reached the shipping lane off the Isle of Wight.

A shore crew from a second vessel were due to leave Southampton and pick up both the drugs and Cole and a signal saying ‘The willy is free” was agreed to tell them when he entered the water in a wetsuit.

The Kahu was stopped in international waters by the customs cutters Searcher and Alert on September 9, 2021 and escorted into Turnchapel Marina in Plymouth, where the drugs were unloaded.

Cole tried to destroy the satellite phone he had used during the passage but experts from the National Crime Agency were able to reassemble it and extract the date.

It included photos taken on board of Cole joking with the crew in the Kahu’s galley and messages telling the gang leader, known as Julio, that he had counted and checked the cargo.

One said he was ‘looking forward to getting back to Blighty and making you proud, boss’ while another showed a clip of the ocean and ‘this is a once in a lifetime opportunity’

Cole even filmed the customs vessels as they prepared to board the Kahu but failed to follow the final instructions from his boss to throw all phones on board into the sea.

The cocaine was in 2,000 packages, each sealed to endure they were waterproof when dropped into the sea. It was between 60 and 86 per cent pure and worth £80 million wholesale or double that in street values.

Cole, aged 33, of Newton Road, Stockton-on-Tees, admitted arranging the carriage of controlled goods and was jailed for 18 years by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him the drugs would have caused untold misery to families and communities if they had reached the streets of Britain.

He said: “It is clear you were the onboard leader and the link between the gang and the crew. You were responsible for ensuring the safe passage and delivery.

“You were going to enter the water with the drugs when you got off the Isle of Wight, while still in the shipping lanes; the plan being for the Kahu to maintain speed to avoid attracting suspicion.

“This was a well organised and sophisticated operation which was thwarted by your interception. This was a massive importation and the profits would have been astronomical.

“The profits are substantial and so are the punishments. In terms of Naval commands, while Julio may have been the Admiral, you were the Commodore. This was a massive operation, one of the largest this court has ever seen.”

Lee Bremridge, prosecuting, said Cole made trips to Florida, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic to set up the trip, and find crew for the Kahu, most of whom were Nicaraguan.

The yacht was bought for around £1 million by other members of the gang in America and the drugs were shipped out of Surinam and picked up at sea. The Kahu’s official destination was Rotterdam.

David Burgess, defending, said Cole’s messages to his boss showed he was not at the top of the gang and was following instructions throughout.

He had lived a law-abiding life until he ran into problems, started using drugs, and fell in with ‘the wrong crowd’. He has written a letter to the Judge expressing his genuine remorse.

The skipper Billy Downs, and four other members of the crew were all cleared of drug smuggling at a trial at Plymouth Crown Court in March.

The Kahu is currently being sold by the NCA and yacht brokers have posted a video advertising it on YouTube (below).