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Tauranga yacht in cocaine bust

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The yacht at the centre of the biggest cocaine bust in Australian history is the Elakha from Tauranga.

The Elakha departed Tauranga mid-January for an alleged South Pacific rendezvous with a ‘mother-ship’ from which the claimed A$370 million worth of drugs was loaded on board.

Elakha was intercepted just after midnight on Friday, 370km off the New South Wales south coast, with the cocaine on board.

On board were owner Hamish Thompson, 63, from New Zealand, and dual Swiss-Fiji national Valentino Fries, 54.

Elakha which means Sea Otter first arrived at the Tauranga Bridge Marina in millenium year, says marina manager Tony Arnold today.

“A Canadian sailed it in, settled here. It’s had several owners. It was out on a mooring for a long time. It’s famous now though, really famous.”

Hamish Thompson wasn’t from Tauranga and Tony doesn’t know where he’s from.

“He was always pleasant enough. Still can’t really believe it, that amount.

“He’s done a few miles in that boat since he bought it. He won’t be doing any more though.”

New Zealand Customs, group manager intelligence, investigations and enforcement, Jamie Bamford, says the seizure is the culmination of a three-year investigation by New Zealand Customs into the activities of the Elakha and its crew.

“Intelligence obtained by Customs was shared with the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force and this seizure is testament to the strong partnerships and cooperation between New Zealand, Australia and Pacific nations focused on combatting drug smuggling operations in the region.

“Our partnerships enable us to act as one and our sophisticated intelligence capabilities and commitment prevent drugs reaching our communities,” says Jamie.

A google search for Hamish Thompson turns an article explaining why NZ Customs have been keeping an eye on him ever since he bought Elakha.

A New Zealander, Hamish Edmond Thompson, then aged 49, was appealing a 24 year jail sentence for helping to smuggle a record shipment of cocaine into Australia.

Thompson was arrested in NSW in February 2002 when the yacht Ngaire Wha, from New Zealand, was found to have 500kg of cocaine on board, also with an estimated street value of $327 million.

A boat had sailed from Colombia and met the Ngaire Wha near the Bay of Islands, where it offloaded the 21 bales of cocaine, says the report.

In 2002, Thompson was appealing his 16 year non-parole sentence because the organiser of the deal, a Russell Douglas Bateman, did a plea bargain with police and received a sentence with only an eight-year non-parole period.

Thompsons lawyers appealed the conviction on the grounds they couldn’t call Bateman as a witness to explain Thompson’s claimed minor role.

Thompson claimed he was taking the Ngaire Wha for a "trial trip" after buying it for $160,000 on behalf of co-offender Thomas Graham Fry, but for Bateman. It was to be used for charters.

Thompson claimed he became aware of the cocaine when the Colombians loaded it on board in the middle of the night. Fry and the other crewmember forced him to sail to Australia.

"Hamish was the local patsy being used by the international big boys," says his lawyer at the time, Piet Baird.


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