Boater jailed for 16 years over plot to smuggle tonne of cocaine into UK

A West Yorkshire man pleaded guilty to conspiring to import a class A drug at Leeds Crown Court on Friday

A West Yorkshire man who was part of a bungled plot to smuggle more than a tonne of cocaine into the UK using two boats has been jailed for 16 years.

Stephen Powell, from Guiseley, was arrested after his yacht Makayabella was intercepted around 300 miles off the south west coast of Ireland in September. 

An operation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA), French, Irish and Venezuelan authorities, the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC-N) in Lisbon tracked the vessel as it crossed the Atlantic from the Caribbean.

The Irish Naval Service boarded Makayabella and discovered around a tonne of cocaine on board, with a likely street value in excess of £160m. 

Three British men, including Powell’s father, were detained on the vessel and taken to the Irish mainland for questioning by An Garda Síochána.

They are now being prosecuted in Ireland.

NCA investigators identified that Powell had purchased Makayabella and another vessel, Sea Breeze, which was to be used to meet the Makaybella and collect the drugs.

However, the criminal’s plan started to go wrong when Sea Breeze, skippered by Mr Powell, ran out of fuel on the way.

It was rescued by the RNLI and towed to Rosslare in Ireland before returning to Pwllheli, north Wales, where NCA officers later found the boat moored in a marina.

Mr Powell disappeared, but after NCA officers raided his home in Guiseley, he handed himself in. 

He pleaded guilty to conspiring to import a class A drug at Leeds Crown Court on Friday 5 December and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

NCA branch commander David Norris said: “This single seizure roughly equates to four percent of the total amount of cocaine we estimate is imported into the UK every year.

“It demonstrates the importance of working with our law enforcement partners abroad to stop illegal drugs reaching the UK.

“I have no doubt that Powell played a crucial role in this plot and would have been responsible for bringing this shipment ashore, where the cocaine would have ended up in the hands of drug dealers around the north of England.

“Our investigation into this smuggling attempt and the wider organised crime group involved continues.”

Two men and a woman, all from the West Yorkshire area, remain on bail as part of the investigation.

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