An ‘uncatchable’ eight-outboard RIB

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Officials believe an English boatbuilder developed a secret line of boats for drug smuggling

Officials believe an English boatbuilder developed a secret line of boats for drug smuggling

With eight Yamaha 250-hp outboards capable of producing a speed of 70 mph, the rigid-hull inflatable has been described as “uncatchable.” And with a price tag of almost $700,000 it also is unaffordable to most.

But then the firm behind this extraordinary boat wasn’t aiming for the pleasure market.

British Customs officials believe Crompton Marine, based in the English county of Suffolk, supplied dozens of the high-performance RIBs to international drug smugglers.

The firm had spent a decade establishing an enviable reputation in the boatbuilding industry while allegedly also developing and building a secret range of RIBs from 30 to 60 feet.

The boats reportedly have a low-

profile design to make them difficult to spot on radar, and many were painted gray or black so they would be difficult to see with the naked eye. Crompton Marine managing director, Neil Davison, 39, and his partner Ellen George, 41, also were suspected of designing a 108-foot version to deliver five of the smaller boats at a time to criminals running contraband between northern Africa and Spain. The details emerged during the trial of Ian Rush, 42, who allegedly continued the business under the name Nautexco Marine when Davison and George were arrested in 2004.

Prosecutor Simon Draycott, showing a photograph of one of the boats to a jury, said it was capable of carrying nearly 4,000 gallons of fuel and at full power used 240 gallons an hour. “This boat was tested in the sea,” he said. “The gentleman who took it out loaded it with 6 tons of shingle, it had five people on board, and it was still able to travel at 50 mph. This was such a powerful boat it could carry a lot of drugs — a lot of contraband — and still go so fast it could outrun any maritime craft.

“The RIBs were built, sold and transported to southern Spain, North Africa and Morocco,” he said. “Davison, George and Rush knew those buying the boats wanted them for one reason: to transport drugs and contraband from North Africa to southern Spain. They also knew the money used to pay for the boats was coming from the proceeds of crime.”

The court also was told that an e-mail sent to a potential customer boasted of “high-speed, uncatchable craft that have a low radar signature.”

When Customs officers raided Davison and George’s home near their business in the former fishing town of Lowestoft, they reportedly found $2.35 million in cash hidden in travel bags in cupboards and under the stairs. An incriminating paper trail of forged ownership and insurance documents allegedly also was found in the house, along with the plans for the super-RIB. Another $1.34 million was found in a separate raid on a property used by Davison in Malaga, Spain.

The couple, who have three children, were arrested after British Customs officials put them under surveillance when Spanish authorities reported seizing a number of the boats during anti-drug smuggling operations. They are said to have made deals for the RIBs between 2000 and 2004, concealing the business by accepting only cash payments that were paid into personal and overseas bank accounts. George reportedly has admitted to possession of criminal property and money laundering, and was awaiting sentencing. Davison reportedly was free on bail in Spain, where he faces drug-smuggling charges.

Rush, a father of three who is from the county of Lincolnshire, formerly delivered boats for the couple. He denied conspiracy to obtain criminal property at the trial, which took place in January. The jury failed to reach a verdict, and he is due to face trial again in July.

His lawyer, Philip Hackett, told the court that Crompton Marine had been used as a money-laundering outfit that transferred $31 million across international borders and generated $5.3 million in assets between 1998 and 2004. However, he said, Nautexco had been run “entirely properly.”

Andrew Levy is a reporter based in London.