Super yacht at centre of alleged criminal activity
Mon, 30 Jul 2012 5:19p.m.
By Len Garae of Vanuatu Daily Post
Twenty Vanuatu police officers, headed by Acting Police Commissioner Arthur Caulton, boarded a mega yacht in Port Vila Harbour at the weekend in what he described as a "pretty big operation" in which four people were arrested.
The skipper and a woman, a Tongan and a Samoan were arrested and a locally-owned truck was impounded. It was a joint operation mounted by customs, immigration and quarantine officers.
The operation continued until 6pm on Sunday but the Acting Commissioner did not reveal the reason for the operation, saying it was connected to local political leaders, including a cabinet minister and a backbencher. He did not name anyone.
The Acting Commissioner said the woman on the yacht was detained for "obstructing police officers on duty". He said the yacht was going to be towed to the wharf by tug boat Roimata II but his men assured him they were satisfied with what they had had access to on board. There was no need to bring the yacht in.
The Police Media Unit named the yacht as Phocea and said it was suspected of being involved in smuggling high powered arms, money laundering and breaching maritime borders.
A police statement said: "A court warrant was issued and a search was conducted and numerous documents in relation to bilateral arrangement and the forging of signatures on official documents were confiscated.
"On board the yacht were 16 crew members including the captain and a Samoan and Tongan, who were involved in ta Vanuatu citizenship controversy in March. [The Tongan and Samoan] are now in the hands of the police."
According to the statement, the yacht was travelling from Panama from Italy and via Tonga. The yacht's next destination was Papua New Guinea. The yacht was registered in Vanuatu in 2005 as a diplomatic yacht of Vanuatu owned by Anh Quan who became a citizen of Vanuatu in 2012.
Police information said people on the yacht were arrested for illegal arms smuggling earlier this year in Thailand on the way to Vietnam.
In the latest arrest, the skipper and a woman appeared along with the Tongan and Samoan in court but the outcome of the hearing was not available at time of going to press. Police said investigations were continuing.
According to Boating and Sailing News, the 82m yacht Phocea and was built in France in 1976.
Pacific Media Centre
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