James Blee arrested at Australian airport Over $20m worth of cocaine found floating near lifeless diver
A veteran superyacht captain and diver whose tours his company touted as ‘beyond legend’ has been arrested after 110 pounds of bricks of cocaine were found near the stranded body of a diver, authorities say australian.
James “Jimmy” Blee was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon at Cairns airport, where he had attempted to board a plane that would have taken him from Queensland to Singapore, police said. The 62-year-old Australian citizen has been charged with two drug importation offences, according to The Guardian.
As authorities in New South Wales sought Blee’s extradition to their state on Thursday, investigators scrambled to determine how a supply of illicit drugs worth more than $20 million ended up Monday in Newcastle harbor waters.
The loot was discovered shortly after an unconscious man was found on a nearby shore wearing sophisticated scuba gear designed to hide signs of surface underwater activity. The man, whom authorities have not identified, died at the scene. We thought he was South American.
South Wales detective Robert Critchlow told reporters it appeared the man had been ‘left for dead’ at the scene by at least one other accomplice, the Australian ABC News reported.
“People don’t dive alone,” Critchlow added, according to The Australian. “It is something concerning that there are obviously more people involved than the dead man.”
It was not immediately clear whether authorities believed Blee was present at the port of Newcastle this week.
The 62-year-old is a “seagoing professional and dedicated marine conservationist with over 30 years of experience in luxury yachting 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. Prior to 2020, Blee had lived and worked for decades in Indonesia, according to his LinkedIn profile, where he consulted and chartered luxury yacht trips and “expedition-style cruises.”
“With his 25 years of experience and his contacts in Asia, Jimmy has a network that extends far and wisely throughout the region,” reports his biography.
The captain’s skills in navigating Southeast Asian waters were “beyond legend”, he boasted on his LinkedIn, leaving him “in great demand” as a guide. Also an “avid diver” by his own reckoning, Blee’s biography states that he racked up over 3,000 dives, most “in the waters of eastern Indonesia”.
The pandemic has apparently scuttled his maritime business interests in Indonesia, although 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 Superyacht Radio, according to Daily Mail. “Pretty exciting times for everyone.”
Remaining moored near the scene on Thursday was a South American freighter, which police say originated in Argentina, carrying a cargo of soybean powder to Newcastle on Sunday evening. Authorities said they believe the massive shipment of drugs was tied up and hidden inside the ship, which is registered in the Marshall Islands as Areti GR Majuro.
Port officials had spotted a small dinghy and a 5-meter aluminum speedboat floating near the vessel that night, Critchlow said. According to ABC News, only “part” of the transport ended up in the water, with more than 400 pounds of cocaine said to be missing.
“It’s a high-end, sophisticated operation,” the detective alleged.