Northern Ireland

Dutch drug gang's yacht goes under the hammer

Louise docked in Southhampton
Image caption The Louise is expected to fetch in the region of £150,000 when it goes under the hammer

It was at the centre of the largest drugs seizure in UK history two years ago, but with its owners languishing in a Dutch prison, a luxury yacht is awaiting a new owner.

The Louise was being used to import cocaine with an estimated street value of up to £300m when it was seized by UK Border Agency officers at Southampton.

The drugs would have been enough to sustain about a third of the annual UK market.

The Dutch crime lord behind the attempt to smuggle the drugs into the country is languishing in jail and the government has put the vessel up for sale along with other items seized by the authorities.

The Louise is still berthed in Southampton where it was impounded, but is being sold by Wilson's Auctions in Mallusk, County Antrim, later.

Crime gang

Keeping it company on the auction list is another drugs boat, a supercar, a collection of vintage motorcycles, American pick-up trucks and a David Chappelle print of Pamela Anderson getting a spray tan.

Built in 2002 by a firm in the Netherlands, the vessel was acquired by a Dutch crime gang.

In 2011, the authorities were tipped off that a shipment of drugs from South America was heading to Europe.

The Louise was tracked from the Caribbean to Southampton, where it arrived, after being transported aboard a container ship along with other luxury cruisers arriving from the Caribbean for the UK summer season.

Image caption UK Border Agency staff examine some of the drugs seized on the Louise in Southampton

Border force officers spent days searching the yacht with sniffer dogs and discovered the cocaine bagged up in a deep compartment beneath the diving platform.

Operations director at Wilson's Auctions, Peter Johnston, said they had a number of odd lots at the moment, courtesy of the government.

Clamping down

"We have been collecting from government departments across the UK for months and the number of high end goods are through the roof," he said.

"The authorities have been clamping down on these people through the Proceeds of Crime Act and there are banks of it just sitting in stores.

"Now the government has decided to turn it into cash.

"So we've the seized yachts which are in Southampton, but right here we have lines of lorries, motorcycles and even a Lamborghini sitting in the yard."

Mr Johnston said that the Louise was sold for 1m euros, but he expected it to fetch in the region of £150,000 when it goes under the hammer.

Image caption This Lamborghini is one of the items featured in the auction on Friday

"It can sound a bit doom and gloom, but the halls are packed for these auctions. Some are people wanting to buy their property back and others are people hunting for a bargain," he said.

"In the liquidation field we had a man buy back his works van to set up in business for himself recently."

The Home Office is ultimately responsible for the decision on how the seized goods are dealt with.

A spokesperson for the department in Northern Ireland said the money raised would go back into central government.

"All seized items once they are deemed ready for disposal are either destroyed or sold as appropriate and the proceeds are deposited with HM Treasury," he said.

"The accounts for the amounts raised from such sales have not yet been published."

More on this story