Two smugglers from Birmingham and two from Greater Manchester have been jailed for 12 years each following the largest seizure of class A drugs aboard a cruise liner arriving in the UK.
Customs officers found 19.9 kilos (43.8lb) of cocaine strapped to the bodies of the three women and one man as the P&O liner Arcadia arrived in Southampton on October 19 last year.
Camille Dupee, 19, of Raleigh Close, Handsworth, Birmingham, and Briony Dyce, 25, of Brearley Street, Handsworth, Birmingham, along with Natalie Quinn, 26, of Grenville Walk, Rochdale, and Calvin Hylton, 41, of Ermington Drive, Manchester, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing at Southampton Crown Court.
The court heard the cocaine, with a street value of £1.75m, was collected when the liner stopped in St Lucia in the Caribbean.
Jailing each of the four defendants to 12 years, Judge Derwin Hope said the sentence should serve as a deterrent to others from becoming drug couriers.
Judge Hope said: "Being a courier is a vital role, it's a means by which the drugs get into this country. It was obviously a well run and well organised international drugs operation that each of you connected with and succumbed to the overtures. No-one goes on an all-paid-up 23-day cruise to the Caribbean without realising something serious by payback would be required."
John Clifford, prosecuting, told the court that Arcadia left Southampton on September 26, 2008 for a three-week cruise stopping in Antigua, Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados and Madeira. He said during the cruise the ship's security officer Bob Ward became suspicious of the quartet, who shared two cabins, as he felt they "seemed to look out of place" and because two other members of the group had failed to turn up for the cruise.
The court heard the cruise was entirely made up of white couples aged in their 60s and 70s. Mr Ward contacted HM Revenue and Customs and when the ship returned to Southampton on October 19, the four were searched.
Mr Clifford said: "Each defendant was found to have silver shrink-wrapped packages concealed about their person, under their clothing, held in place by blue tape." He said the rolls of tape were found in Dyce's baggage suggesting she had a greater organisational role in the operation as she had also booked all of the tickets.
Speaking outside the court, Peter Avery, assistant director criminal investigation for HMRC, said: "The skills of HMRC criminal investigation and the UK Border Agency detection officers have stopped £1.75m of cocaine from reaching the UK's streets."
Three further suspects are due to answer bail in connection with the smuggling operation next week.