Cocaine, Guns and Yachts

19 Nov
Photo Credit: The Royal Gazette / Glen Tucker

It’s not just cute cruising families and well-intentioned retirees out there, folks. Charlie has written a few fascinating posts on crime at sea. Here’s my contribution. I wrote a few days ago about our experience clearing customs in Bermuda and the story we were told about a cruiser who was discovered with an undeclared gun and $48 million dollars worth of cocaine on his boat. Sailfeed reader Steve Burrows then pointed me to some newspaper articles on the trial. They make for fascinating reading.

The circumstances were these. In July of 2011 Latvian single-hander Janis Zegelis limped into Bermuda on his 38′ sloop after encountering heavy weather and breaking his mast. His stated intentions were to make quick repairs and be on his way home to Latvia. He easily cleared customs. Eleven days later he was still in St George’s Harbor making repairs when customs boarded and searched his boat, finding 166 kilograms of cocaine and gun.

Photo Credit: The Royal Gazette

This is when stories diverge. The tale we were told by an officer at Bermuda Radio was that this search was prompted by an outside tip from another nation’s law enforcement. He said that the drugs and gun were barely concealed and that when they were discovered Zegelis calmly declared that there should be no problem because he was a yacht in transport and had no intentions to import this stuff into Bermuda!

Zegelis tells the story differently. In his disposition in front of a Bermudian jury Zegelis claims that we was sailing the yacht on a delivery contract for a Russian man (whom he refused to name). He claims to have had no knowledge of the contraband until a mid-passage discovery while searching for some spare parts. If he is to be believed, he immediately called the yacht’s owner to declare that he would have no part in the plot but was cowed into cooperation when the man threatened to kill his children. Soon after, Zegelis says he encountered the storm and was forced to make landfall in Bermuda where he kept his trap shut out of fear that the Russian mobster would harm his family if he turned the drugs in.
His story sounds quite believable, and makes the result of his trial all the more chilling for anyone who makes their living helping to sail stranger’s boats – Zegelis was convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.

There is yet another version of events, however, one which paints Zegelis in a very different light. In
this version he is a complicit, if rather desperate criminal. It seems the prosecution was able to dig up a series of emails between Zegelis and his mother which make for quite the damning indictment. Though it’s hard not to feel a little empathy for Zegelis, these emails are also pretty hilarious in their clumsy attempts at subterfuge. After it becomes clear that he will need to stopover in Bermuda Zegelis and his mother repeatedly email each other about whether or not to jettison “the sausages” and the “iron toy” from the boat. A couple highlights:
Zegelis: “So I go in with the sausages and the iron toy, OK?”
Mom: “Son dear, take the sausages.”
Zegelis: “Plan to go in with the sausages and if someone says anything will pretend a victim”

Just to be clear, prosecutor Cindy Clarke did ask the customs officers who searched the ship whether they found a load of sausages along with the cocaine. The vessel was bratwurst-free.

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder


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