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TWO men have been jailed for a total of more than 40 years after £90m of cocaine was found hidden on a yacht off the Isle of Wight.

Piotr Pachnia, 33, was handed a 24-year sentence this morning at Winchester Crown Court after being convicted by a jury at Portsmouth Crown Court of being in possession of 996lb (452kg) of the class A drug following a two-day trial.

Thomas Dylik, 48, captain of the yacht Baila where UK Border Agency officers found the haul in June last year, admitted the same charge and was sent to prison for 18 and a half years.

The seizure was one of the largest ever in the UK, the agency said.

Pachnia, of no fixed address, and Dylik, who has an address in Poland but had been living on the yacht, were arrested after UK Border Agency officials found the cocaine during a search of the vessel at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.

Three officers had earlier boarded the yacht when it entered UK territorial waters having sailed from the Caribbean.

They had tracked the vessel for about 24 hours from waters off the coast of Plymouth until it was 11 miles south of St Catherine's Point on the Isle of Wight.

The officials then escorted Baila to Portsmouth amid suspicions illegal drugs could be hidden on board. Three swab tests had revealed traces of illegal substances.

On searching the yacht officers discovered more than 470 packages and cylinders of cocaine.

The cocaine, which had an average 90 per cent purity, was found behind false walls, hidden in compartments and a holdall.

The yacht has since been forfeited and an order has been made for the cocaine to be destroyed.

Judge Susan Evans commended UK Border Agency officers, who she said conducted the Operation Pareto investigation with "great thoroughness."

She is to write a certificate of commendation to those involved in "preventing this enormous amount of cocaine from ending up on the streets of this country or any other European country".

A confiscation hearing will be held at a later date to recoup any money the men made through criminal activity.

Judge Susan Evans said: "It was a sophisticated and well planned operation to import a massive amount of cocaine, nearly half a ton, with a street value of £90m."

She added it was impossible to say which country the cocaine was destined for, the UK or another European country.

Judge Evans told them: "Had you landed that cargo the misery inflicted upon drug addicts and the contribution towards drug related crime would have been enormous. At this volume it inflicts damage on the country as a whole both in terms of crime and the resources needed to fund the law enforcement officers to fight it."

Judge Evans also praised the tenacity of the UKBA officers involved in detecting giant haul.