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Dutch pair charged in Britain after cocaine haul seized from boat

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London (AFP)

A pair of Dutch nationals appeared in a British court on Saturday after authorities seized one of their largest-ever hauls of cocaine, aboard a yacht off the south-west coast.

Maarten Peter Pieterse, 59, and Emile Adriaan Jeroen Schoemaker, 44, appeared via video-link at Bristol Magistrates' Court in south-west England charged with drug importation offences.

Pieterse did not enter a plea, while Schoemaker pleaded not guilty.

They have been remanded in custody and are due to appear next in court on August 20.

The two were arrested Thursday after the Netherlands-registered boat that they were travelling on was intercepted by a Border Force cutter 120 miles (193 kilometres) off the far southwestern county of Cornwall.

Officers discovered bales of cocaine wrapped in plastic bagging in a compartment beneath the decking area at the rear of the vessel, the SY Marcia, Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) said in a statement.

Its National Maritime Intelligence Centre aided the operation alongside a European analysis and operations centre for narcotics in Lisbon and law enforcement partners in Portugal, France and the Netherlands.

"This is a huge haul of class A drugs, one of the largest seizures of class A ever in the UK, and with a potential street value likely to be in the hundreds of millions," said Andy Quinn, NCA regional head of investigations.

"The criminal trade in drugs is driven by financial gain, and the loss of the profit that would have been made from this seizure it will be a major hit to the international criminal networks involved," he added.

The largest seizure of top category drugs in recent times in Britain remains the April 2015 capture of around 3.2 tonnes of cocaine, which was recovered from the tug boat Hamal, sailing off the coast of Scotland.

Turkish sailors Mumin Sahin and Emin Ozmen were later jailed for at least 20 years following a trial in the case.

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