A superyacht tour operator and diving expert has been arrested while allegedly trying to flee the country after a diver died attempting to recover $20million of cocaine hidden in a ship’s hull.
Port workers in Newcastle, NSW found the diver unconscious 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 out of Cairns – was stopped by Federal police as he tried to board a flight to Singapore.
The father of three, who has an Indonesian wife, is expected to be extradited to NSW on Friday to face charges of importing a large commercial quantity of border controlled drug and large commercial drug supply.
Blee runs luxury yachting, fishing and diving tours around Indonesia, North Queensland and the Whitsundays, and offers a consultancy service to other yacht owners and operators.
Jimmy Blee, 62, (pictured here with his wife and children) was stopped by police as he tried to board a flight from Cairns to Singapore on Wednesday
Jimmy Blee is well-known character among local yacht operators in Cairns
He is a well-known character among local yacht operators, and unsuccessfully applied to be in the 2019 series of Australian Survivor after appearing in a 2013 Malaysian paint commercial.
In his audition tape for Survivor, he jokingly claimed to have lived in his backyard for 10 days in preparation for the series, surviving on a diet of rainwater and worms.
In several interviews about his business operations, he bragged about his network of experienced divers.
‘We have slowly developed a terrific team of ‘Top Gun’ dive experts that work exceptionally well as onboard dive/ guides,’ he said about his diving tours to the Papua region of Indonesia on board the luxury charter boat Amandira.
His website adds: ‘With his 25 years of experience and contacts in Asia, Jimmy has a network that spreads far and wide.
‘Additionally, a keen diver, Jimmy has logged more than 3,000 dives, the majority in the waters of eastern Indonesia.’
Jimmy Blee runs luxury yachting, fishing and diving tours around Indonesia, North Queensland and the Whitsundays
Blee was arrested following investigations by Strike Force Groove after the body of a diver and 54kg of cocaine was found at Newcastle port, NSW, on Monday.
The dead man was wearing technical dive gear – which allowed the diver to operate without leaving a tell-tale trail of bubbles – when he was found unconscious in the water by dock workers at 9.30am on Monday.
The dockers 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 attempting to contact his family overseas.
A waterproof sack of cocaine blocks was found near his body and several more yellow-sealed blocks of the drug were found floating nearby.
A man has been arrested in connection with the death of a diver who was trying to recover $20 million of cocaine from the hull of a ship in Newcastle
Police divers are pictured in a recovery operation after a diver was found dead close to a massive cocaine haul
Detectives believe he was part of a drug smuggling operation which was using ‘old school’ tactics rarely employed by modern drug syndicates.
Police divers inspected underneath the cargo ship Areti. Gr Majuro and found the massive haul of cocaine in its sea chest – which is normally filled with seawater – inside the hull.
The ship had arrived on Sunday evening after a month-long journey carrying soya from Argentina. Two small boats were seen close to the docked ship in Newcastle on Sunday evening.
It’s believed the drug cartel had begun the operation to recover the drugs when the diver got into trouble and was callously left to die by his associates.
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 refused to comment, but one fellow superyacht operator in Cairns admitted he was shocked by the news.
A scene from onboard one of Blee’s superyachts posted on his Facebook page
‘This was a well drilled professional group, comfortable sending drugs on a ship across the world,’ said Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow of NSW Police Organised Crime Squad.
‘They knew exactly what they were doing. ‘These people have fled so it’s quite disgusting that this man’s been left to die regardless of what he was involved with.’
He added: ‘NSW Police and our partners have been aware of Newcastle Port being a drug shipping port for sometime.
‘There have been some indications in the past of [bikie gang] involvement around the docks, and we’ve worked very closely with our partners to remove them from the system.
The body of a man wearing technical dive gear (pictured) has washed up at a busy port with police suspecting he was trying to bring ashore a $20million-haul of cocaine using ‘old school’ smuggling tactics that are rarely seen by modern drug syndicates
‘But it remains a point of risk because any port has a lot of movements – so a lot of ships, a lot of trucks, a lot of people, so it is easier to hide drugs among that.’
A police spokesman added: ‘Inquiries under Strike Force Groove are ongoing.’