I have never been arrested and in the case of the “Cocaine Catamaran” I was cleared the same day.

However, my name as a Skipper has been linked and I feel somewhat tainted by association in the news articles about the “Cocaine Catamaran”

Boat owners often ask me about it. I’m sure the association is not ideal. 😆

This is a scary story and one that haunts me.

I hope my warnings save others from similar situations.

In 2017 I was beginning my recovery from an autoimmune disorder called Ankylosing Spondylitis, I was dreaming of doing more sailing. I was sick of being house bound, bed bound, in agony. As I worked on ways to reduce the inflammation in my body, I decided to build a website to bring In opportunities to help people relocate their Vessels, opportunities for me to sail and be on the sea and feel useful again.

I was eager to sail across the Pacific, A life long dream. In one of my first few yacht delivery requests on my new website, I was contacted with a request to sail a 42 foot Catamaran from Tahiti to Sydney Australia. I was thrilled.
Apparently the request had come from a friend of a friend of a guy I sailed with sometimes, Craig.
I asked Craig if he wanted to do the delivery trip with me and he agreed. Craig and I met a few years earlier while working on a commercial 24m cruise boat. (I skippered and Craig played the Saxophone and did the ropes.) Craig and I had done a couple of coastal deliveries on pleasure craft in the past too and I found Craig was capable and good company.
In my enthusiasm I ignored some warning signs that something dodgy might be afoot with this Tahiti to Sydney delivery.
Things like emails from a owners representative, not the actual boat owner. Cash deposit dropped off by a third party. A snide comment from the marina manager in Tahiti.
But we bought plane tickets and Craig and I headed to Tahiti.
I rang the Australian Border Force to ask them to check if the boat owner on the rego was legitimate and what my obligations were as far as checking a vessel before entering Australia. They gave me the all clear.

On arrival in Tahiti  I searched the Catamaran thoroughly inside and out, every locker and inspection hatch to satisfy myself there were no drugs or guns or anything else aboard to worry about. I even swam under the boat incase there was something fibreglassed onto the hull.
All went well across the ocean. Craig and I were happy and relaxed, adjusting sails, fixing issues and keeping watch. We cleared into Coffs Harbour NSW and all seemed fine.
We stopped in at Lake Macquarie on the way to Sydney to check up on our own boats, friends and family.
Craig dropped me off on my own 11.95m Chamberlin Catamaran in Rathmines, then motored the 42 foot Catana Catamaran to the next bay where his monohull was moored off Toronto Yacht Club.
While I was eating dinner at my parents house in Rathmines, Craig was called by someone he knew on shore at Toronto. As far as I know from subsequent information, they had several drinks at the yacht club before they offered Craig some figure like $500,000 or 1 Million dollars to take them out to the boat and let them cut something out of the hulls. (drugs presumably)
In his anebriated state, Craig agreed. He did not feel he had much choice. The next day, Craig rowed some guys out to the boat and the cops who had been monitoring the whole drug ring for months swooped in and arrested them all.
The police approached me in Rathmines and I went to the police station to make a statement. They told me they had found 700kg of Cocaine fibreglased into sealed compartments in the front of the Catamaran we had sailed. Fortunately from their surveillance they knew I was not involved with drugs and did not arrest me.

Craig ended up in maximum security prison for over two years without trial.
In 2019 the Jury found Craig guilty but the Judge clearly felt for the situation and gave him nine years with a minimum of seven, which was a light sentence considering the maximum of 24 years.

It’s a horrible story. Especially for Craig, his friends and family.

Since 2017 I have had other suspect enquiries to move vessels internationally which I have ignored or passed on to the Authorities.

The take homes I want to leave you with are.

Be VERY careful what you bring into Australia (or any country for that matter) Especially if the owner is not aboard to take responsibility for what is on their vessel.

Warning signs include:

  • Exclusive use of encrypted phones or encrypted Apps like What’s App.
  • People that say they represent the boat owner without actually meeting or talking to the actual owner.
  • People that know little about their boats
  • Cash Deposits
  • Owners or representatives that are overly free with their money.

Note that the Australian Border Force and the Australian Federal Police may not tell you what they know about suspect boat owners. I have found this to be true twice. The police did not tell me the truth when I enquired because it would have jeopardised their operation.

I was told by Border Force that at any one time they are monitoring up to 30 vessels that they suspect maybe carrying drugs and are headed for Australia. But they will not warn you if you are delivering one.

Since 2017 I have delivered scores of vessels to happy boat owners. I mostly do national deliveries as they feel safer. But I still feel the pull of the Pacific and I have ventured out to Fiji, PNG and New Caledonia on a few occasions.

So heed my warning if you are moving boats internationally. Be very careful and listen to your gut.

Take care 🙂

David Mitchell