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Cape Verdes: British Yacht Arrested on Drug Charges - a cautionary tale for delivery crew

By Jill Schinas — last modified Jun 25, 2018 08:14 AM
Yachtsmen and hitch-hikers are warned to be wary of acting as delivery crew after the arrest and conviction of four men who had been contracted to undertake the delivery of a British-flagged yacht from Brazil to the Azores. Jill Schinas of yacht Mollymawk, whose son-in-law is a friend of one of the convicted delivery crew, recounts how this seemingly harmless delivery trip came to such a life-changing end.

Published: 2018-06-25 00:00:00
Topics: Global Yachting Services
Countries: Brazil , Cape Verdes , Azores

Rich Harvest was arrested last August (2017) in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde with more than 1 ton of cocaine aboard. The drugs were hidden in secret compartments which could only be accessed by removing fitted furniture, lifting a 600L water-tank, smashing apart a layer of concrete, and taking grinders to a steel plate.

The boat had been taken to Brazil a year earlier by four Englishmen. An investigation by the Brazilian police found that one of these men – George 'Fox' Saul – remained with her in a boatyard near Salvador while certain repairs and modifications were undertaken. Their information leads them to believe that another crew-member, named Robert Delbos, was also involved in this work.

Soon after the modifications had been made, Rich Harvest made a short excursion along the coast; and then Fox got in touch with a firm known as The Delivery Company and arranged to hire a skipper who would sail the yacht to the Azores. Three Brazilian crew were also contracted.

Shortly before the boat was due to leave from the port of Natal, the Brazilian police pounced and made a thorough inspection using a sniffer dog. They even explored the engine, and they investigated some tanks which had been constructed in the keel - but they did not find anything.

At this point, the skipper hired for the job dropped out or was fired; but Fox was able to enlist a Frenchman who was the friend of an acquaintance. Olivier Thomas joined the boat only a few days before she sailed. One day after this new skipper’s arrival, Fox announced that he had pressing business at home but that he trusted the crew to manage his boat without him.

During the Atlantic crossing the engine broke down and several other systems failed - and thus it was that the yacht diverted to Mindelo, Sao Vicente. Two days after her arrival she was searched by the Cape Verdean police, and the cocaine was located in the secret caches.

Investigating events which occurred on their side of the ocean, the Brazilian police decided that the drugs were already hidden on the boat before they searched her. Having traced the route followed by the vessel during her stay in their country, they identified the place where the cargo was almost certainly put aboard. The visit of the yacht to this place occurred before Fox had even begun to look for crew. Thus, taking all things into account, the Policia Federal decided that the men cannot possibly have known about the secret cargo.

For their part, the Cape Verdean police declared that they had not been able to ascertain who put the drugs aboard. Despite this, a Cape Verdean judge decided that it was probable that the crew had loaded the drugs themselves; and, based on that “probability” he found them guilty. He further decided to punish the men for the fact that they were not remorseful and had not entered guilty pleas... and he sentenced them each to 10 years in prison.

"It does not make sense," says French marine legal specialist, Yves Tassel, "When investigating a crime, you have to investigate all the facts. If the Brazilian police say it's likely that the crew was not aware of the presence of the drugs on board, the Cape Verdean judge must take this into account." Instead, he has over-ruled the principle of the presumption of innocence.

Meanwhile, the man who posed as the owner of the yacht and who hired the crew to sail her to Europe is still at large.

For their part, the Brazilian police have issued a warrant for the arrest of George Saul and Robert Delbos. They consider these men to be “the tip of a criminal gang” delivering drugs across the Atlantic. Delbos has now been arrested by the Spanish police.

'Hitch-hikers’ should be aware of the possible dangers of acting as delivery crew and owners should perhaps be wary of taking on crew laden with excessive amounts of baggage…

More details can be found at: https://www.yachtmollymawk.com/2018/04/a-cautionary-tale-and-a-rallying-call-to-the-cruising-community/

Jill Schinas
Yacht Mollymawk

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of noonsite.com or the World Cruising Club

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