Three sentenced for €300m cocaine smuggling operation

Men detained on Makayabella yacht off Cork coast after multi-agency operation

A man has been jailed for 10 years and two others for eight years each for attempting to smuggle almost €300 million of cocaine into the UK.

Yacht skipper Jonathan Powell (71) was sentenced to 10-years in prison, while crew members Benjamin Mellor (34) and Thomas Britteon (28) were each jailed for eight years by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin.

All three were detained aboard the Makayabella yacht 217 nautical miles off the Cork coast on September 23rd last, in a Joint Task Force operation involving navy, customs and gardaí.

Today at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, Insp Fergal Foley told the judge that all three were in a poor state when detained: “To be blunt, they were delighted to see the navy.”


All three Britons had pleaded guilty to possessing 1,025kgs of cocaine with a street value of €290 million for sale or supply, and to drug trafficking offences.

Mr Foley said that the seizure of the drugs involved a multi-agency operation in Ireland, working in tandem with law enforcement agencies in several other countries.

The entire operation was due to the coordination of intelligence by the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre - Narcotics (MAOC-N) in Lisbon in Portugal, he said.

Insp Foley said intelligence on the Makayabella in the Caribbean was disseminated by MAOC-N to various agencies, including the National Crime Agency in the UK.

Customs inspection

On September 14th, 2014, a cruiser, the Sea Breeze, was inspected by customs officers at Rosslare after it ran out of petrol and was towed into the Co Wexford port by a RNLI lifeboat.

Customs officers became suspicious when they found a large quantity of diesel, a suitcase of food and a satnav phone that had been used to make calls to a vessel about 600km off the coast of Ireland.

A French maritime patrol aircraft confirmed a yacht at that location and a Joint Task Force operation involving the navy, customs and An Garda Síochána was mounted.

The LÉ Niamh and the LÉ Roisin were dispatched to intercept the yacht.

A boarding party boarded the Makayabella at 1.40am on September 23rd, and met with no resistance from the three crew.

They had been without food for several days and Mellor was so desperate to stave off the pangs of hunger that he had started eating cocaine from one of the 41 bales on board.

All three were detained and later arrested after the Makayabella was brought into the naval base at Haulbowline in Co Cork. They were all subsequently charged with drug offences.

Insp Foley said Powell had been recruited by his son, Stephen (47) to go to the Caribbean in 2013 to purchase the yacht. He was later joined by Mellor.

Britteon had joined them in July 2014 after flying to the Caribbean. They had picked up the drugs off the Venezuela coast on August 4th, 2014 and headed for the UK.

Jonathan Powell’s son Stephen was said to be behind the operation, having bought the yacht for £100,000 ( €140,000). He is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in the UK for his part in the smuggling operation.

Previous convictions

Powell, of Airedale Mews, Silsden, West Yorkshire, England, had no previous convictions, while Mellor from Manningham, Mornington Villas, Bradford and Britteon of Convamore Road, Grimsby, Lincolnshire had previous convictions for minor offences.

Defence counsels, Ciaran O’Loughlin SC, Alice Fawsett SC and Michael O’Higgins SC all argued that it would have been a complex case to try because of jurisdictional issues. They said their clients had saved the State expense and time with their early guilty pleas and they pleaded for the court to treat all three as leniently as possible.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said it was a serious crime involving a huge amount of drugs but all three deserved a benefit for saving the State a lengthy trial.

Before sentencing, the judge noted that those who had pleaded guilty in similar drug smuggling cases had each received 10-year jail terms.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times