Superyacht Captain Busted at Airport After $20M Cocaine Haul Found Floating Near Lifeless Diver

·3 min read
North Queensland Superyacht Marine & Tours
North Queensland Superyacht Marine & Tours

A veteran superyacht captain and scuba diver whose tours were touted by his company as “beyond legendary” has been arrested after 110 pounds of cocaine bricks were found near the washed-up body of a diver, according to Australian authorities.

James “Jimmy” Blee was taken into custody on Wednesday afternoon at Cairns Airport, where he’d attempted to board a plane that would have taken him from Queensland to Singapore, police said. The 62-year-old Australian citizen was charged with two drug importation offenses, according to The Guardian.

While New South Wales authorities sought Blee’s extradition to their state on Thursday, investigators were working to determine how an illicit drug supply worth more than $20 million had ended up in the waters of the New South Wales port of Newcastle on Monday.

The haul was discovered shortly after an unconscious man was found on a riverbank nearby, wearing sophisticated diving gear designed to hide surface traces of underwater activity. The man, whom authorities have not identified, died at the scene. He was believed to have been South American.

New South Wales detective Robert Critchlow told reporters it appeared the man had been “left to die” at the scene by at least one other accomplice, Australia’s ABC News reported.

“People don’t scuba dive alone,” Critchlow added, according to The Australian. “It’s something of concern that there’s evidently more people involved than the dead man.”

It was not immediately clear if authorities believed Blee had been present at the Newcastle port this week.

The 62-year-old is a “maritime professional and dedicated marine conservationist with more than 30 years experience with luxury yachting throughout South East Asia,” according to a website for North Queensland Superyacht Marine & Tours, a company he co-founded after returning to Australia two years ago. Prior to 2020, Blee had lived and worked for decades in Indonesia, according to his LinkedIn profile, where he consulted on and chartered luxury yacht trips and “expedition-style cruises.”

“With his 25 years of experience and contacts in Asia, Jimmy has a network that spreads far and wise throughout the region,” his biography reported.

The captain’s skills at navigating Southeast Asian waters were “beyond legendary,” he boasted on his LinkedIn, leaving him in “great demand” as a guide. Also a “keen diver” in his own estimation, Blee’s biography said that he had accrued more than 3,000 dives, most of them “in the waters of eastern Indonesia.”

The pandemic apparently scuttled his marine business interests in Indonesia, though Blee seemed optimistic about the future. “Once post-COVID really does start to kick in, I’m pretty sure we're going to see some adventures,” he said on a May 2021 podcast episode of SuperYacht Radio, according to the Daily Mail. “Pretty exciting times for everyone.”

Remaining docked near the scene on Thursday was a South American cargo ship, which police said had originated from Argentina, hauling a shipment of soybean powder into Newcastle on Sunday evening. Authorities have said they believe the massive drug shipment had been strapped to and stashed inside the ship, which is registered to the Marshall Islands as the Areti GR Majuro.

Port officials had spotted a small rubber dinghy and a 5-meter aluminum speedboat floating near the ship that night, Critchlow said. Only a “portion” of the haul is believed to have ended up in the water, ABC News reported, with more than 400 pounds of cocaine believed to be unaccounted for.

“It’s a high-end, sophisticated operation,” the detective alleged.

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