A veteran superyacht captain and diver whose excursions were touted by his company as “beyond legendary” has been arrested after 110 pounds of blocks of cocaine were found near the stranded body of a diver, according to Australian authorities.
James “Jimmy” Blee was arrested Wednesday afternoon at Cairns airport, where he tried 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 offences, according to The Guardian.
As New South Wales authorities sought Blee’s extradition to their state on Thursday, investigators worked to determine how a supply of illicit drugs worth more than $20 million had ended up in the waters of Newcastle harbor on Monday. .
The loot was discovered shortly after a man was found unconscious on the bank of a nearby river, wearing sophisticated diving gear designed to hide traces of underwater activity on the surface. The man, whom authorities have not identified, died at the scene. He was believed to be South American.
South Wales Detective Robert Critchlow told reporters the man had apparently been “left to die” at the scene by at least one other accomplice, Australia’s ABC News reported.
“People don’t dive alone,” Critchlow added, according to the australian. “It is somewhat worrying that there are obviously more people involved than the dead person.”
It was not immediately clear if authorities believed Blee had been present at Newcastle harbor this week.
The 62-year-old is a “dedicated, professional marine conservationist with over 30 years’ experience on luxury yachts throughout Southeast Asia,” according to a website for North Queensland Superyacht Marine & Tours, a company he co-founded after returning . to Australia two years ago. Before 2020, Blee had lived and worked for decades in Indonesia, according to his LinkedIn profile, where he consulted and chartered trips on luxury yachts and “expedition-style cruises.”
“With his 25 years of experience and contacts in Asia, Jimmy has a network that stretches across the region,” his bio reports.
The captain’s skills at navigating the waters of Southeast Asia were “beyond legendary,” he boasted on his LinkedIn, leaving him in “high demand” as a guide. Also an “enthusiastic diver” in his own estimation, Blee’s biography says that he had amassed more than 3,000 dives, most of them “in the waters of eastern Indonesia.”
The pandemic has apparently scuttled his marine business interests in Indonesia, though Blee seemed optimistic about the future. “Once post-COVID really starts to kick in, I’m pretty sure we’re going to see some adventures,” he said in a May 2021 podcast episode of radio superyacht, according to the Daily mail. “Pretty exciting times for everyone.”
On Thursday night, a South American freighter, which police said came from Argentina, was docked near the scene, carrying a shipment of soybean powder to Newcastle on Sunday night. Authorities have said they believe the massive drug shipment had been lashed down and hidden inside the ship, which is registered in the Marshall Islands as Areti GR Majuro.
Port officials had seen a small rubber boat and a 5-meter aluminum speedboat floating near the ship that night, Critchlow said. Only a “portion” of the loot is believed to have ended up in the water, ABC News reported, and the whereabouts of more than 400 pounds of cocaine are believed to be unknown.
“It is a sophisticated and high-level operation,” the detective alleged.