Superyacht operator Jimmy Blee arrested in Cairns Queensland over Newcastle NSW cocaine bust
A superyacht tour operator and diving expert has been arrested while allegedly trying to leave the country after a diver died while trying to recover $20million worth of cocaine hidden in a ship’s hull.
Workers at the port of Newcastle in New South Wales found the unconscious diver in the water at 9.30am on Monday surrounded by floating blocks of cocaine after the drug smuggling operation went tragically wrong.
On Wednesday, Jimmy Blee, 62 – who runs North Queensland Superyacht Marine and Tours from Cairns – was arrested by Federal Police as he tried to board a flight to Singapore on Wednesday.
The father-of-three, who has an Indonesian wife, is set to be extradited to NSW on Friday to face charges of importing a large border-controlled commercial amount of drugs and a large commercial drug supply.
Blee organizes luxury yachting, fishing and diving trips around Indonesia, North Queensland and the Whitsundays, and offers an advisory service to other yacht owners and operators.
Jimmy Blee, 62 (pictured here with his wife and children) was arrested by police as he tried to board a flight from Cairns to Singapore on Wednesday
Jimmy Blee is well known to local yacht operators in Cairns
He is a well-known figure to local yacht operators and unsuccessfully applied to be part of the 2019 Australian Survivor series after appearing in a Malaysian paint advertisement in 2013.
In his audition tape for Survivor, he jokingly claimed to have lived in his garden for 10 days in preparation for the series, surviving on a diet of rainwater and worms.
In several interviews about his business activities, he boasted of his network of experienced divers.
“We have slowly developed a formidable team of ‘Top Gun’ dive experts who work exceptionally well as onboard dive guides,” he said of his dive trips in the Papua region in Indonesia aboard the luxury charter boat Amandira.
His website adds: “With 25 years of experience and contacts in Asia, Jimmy has a network that stretches far and wide.
“Also an avid diver, Jimmy has logged over 3,000 dives, the majority in eastern Indonesian waters.”
His website says he runs a fleet of 150 “foreign-flagged vessels”, including working with the $93 million Mayan Queen and the $55 million Achilles superyachts.
Jimmy Blee organizes luxury yachting, fishing and diving trips around Indonesia, North Queensland and the Whitsundays
A man has been arrested in connection with the death of a diver who was trying to recover $20million worth of cocaine from the hull of a ship in Newcastle
Blee was arrested following investigations by Strike Force Groove after the body of a diver and 54kg of cocaine were found in the port of Newcastle, NSW on Monday.
The dead man was wearing technical diving equipment – which allowed the diver to operate without leaving a trace of telltale bubbles – when he was found unconscious in the water by dockworkers at 9.30am on Monday.
Dock workers and paramedics desperately tried to save the man, but he died at the scene. The diver is believed to be a foreign national from South America and police are trying to contact his family overseas.
A sealed bag of cocaine blocks was found near his body and several other yellow-sealed drug blocks were found floating nearby.
Detectives believe he was part of a drug smuggling operation that used ‘old school’ tactics rarely employed by modern drug syndicates.
Police divers inspected under cargo ship Areti. Gr Majuro and found the huge shipment of cocaine in her sea chest – which is normally filled with seawater – inside the hull.
The ship had arrived on Sunday evening after a month-long voyage carrying soybeans from Argentina. Two small boats were seen near the ship moored in Newcastle on Sunday evening.
It is believed that the drug cartel had started the operation to recover the drugs when the diver got into trouble and was ruthlessly left to die by his associates.
Police divers are pictured during a recovery operation after a diver was found dead near a massive cocaine transport
A scene aboard one of Blee’s superyachts posted on his Facebook page
A massive interstate operation involving NSW and Queensland Police, Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force officers led to Blee’s arrest on Wednesday.
His business associates declined to comment, but another superyacht operator in Cairns admitted he was shocked by the news.
“It was a well-trained professional group, comfortable sending drugs on a ship across the world,” said Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow of the NSW Police Organized Crime Squad.
‘They knew exactly what they were doing. “These people fled, so it’s pretty disgusting that this man was left to die no matter what he was involved in.”
He added: “NSW Police and our partners have known for some time that the Port of Newcastle is a drug shipping port.
“There have been indications in the past of [bikie gang] around the docks, and we’ve worked very closely with our partners to get them out of the system.
The body of a man wearing tech scuba gear (pictured) washed up in a busy port, with police suspecting he was trying to bring $20 million worth of cocaine ashore using smuggling tactics ‘to the old” seldom seen by modern drug syndicates.
“But it’s still a risk point because any port has a lot of movement – so a lot of ships, a lot of trucks, a lot of people, so it’s easier to hide drugs among that.”
A police spokesperson added: “Investigations under Strike Force Groove are ongoing.”