Colombians jailed over Tilbury cocaine haul

Two Colombian men who stowed away on a ship for 12 days in an attempt to smuggle 50 kg of cocaine across the Atlantic Ocean were jailed for 14 years on 24 November reports the UK Border Agency

Fredy Wilian Paz Preciado, 30, and Murillo James Rudolfo Quinones, 37, had pleaded not guilty to charges of possession of a controlled substance on international waters, but after an eight day trial the jury at Basildon Crown Court recorded guilty verdicts.

In passing sentence, Judge Graham said: ‘This was international drug running on a very substantial scale’.

Preciado and Quinones were arrested by officers from the UK Border Agency when the Ems Trader, the container vessel they had been hiding on over the Christmas period, docked at the Port of Tilbury on 27 December last year.

The ship had set sail from Colombia on 15 December and stopped at the Port of Rotterdam before travelling on to Tilbury.

The men had been discovered shortly after the ship had left Rotterdam, when crew members heard a knocking noise from one of the hatches to the ship’s hold.

Both the men had bags with them, as well as a mobile phone with the GPS co-ordinates for the mouth of the River Maas, the entrance to the Port of Rotterdam. For warmth, they were wearing wetsuits under their clothes.

They had spent a total of 12 days confined in the hold.

When the area that the men had been living in was searched, the crew found a series of packages wrapped in adhesive tape that they believed contained drugs. Tests carried out by the UK Border Agency at Tilbury confirmed the contents were cocaine with an estimated street value of £2.5 million.

When questioned, Preciado and Quinones said that they had stowed away on the Ems Trader on 15 December before it set sail from the Port of Cartagena in Colombia.

They said they were fleeing their homeland and denied all knowledge of the cocaine.

However, forensic analysis conducted by the UK Border Agency of the tape in which the cocaine was wrapped matched tape found on Preciado and Quinones’ bags.

Jim Jarvie, deputy director of the UK Border Agency’s crime directorate, said: ‘Our investigation team was able to demonstrate to the court a direct link between the defendants and the drugs. This forensic evidence was absolutely key to getting today’s convictions.

‘We believe their plan was to stash the drugs in the bags and throw them off the ship when they reached the co-ordinates programmed into the phone, but they got stuck in the hold and were unable to go through with it.

‘Drug smuggling is serious organised crime, involving big money. This case demonstrates the extreme measures people are prepared to take to breach border controls.

‘Drugs like cocaine destroy people’s lives and damage the fabric of our communities. Anyone with information about activity they suspect may be linked to drug smuggling should call our hotline on 0800 59 5000.’

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