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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald

'50 kilos not 100': Superyacht tour operator disputes quantity of cocaine

A SUPERYACHT tour operator who plotted a massive drug importation that was only discovered when the body of a professional diver was found floating in Newcastle Harbour is disputing the quantity of cocaine he smuggled into Australia.

James Blake Blee Snr, now 63, illegally smuggled Brazilian nationals Bruno Borges Martins, 31, and Jhoni Fernandes Da Silva, 32, from Indonesia into Australia via Darwin so the pair could retrieve 108 kilograms of cocaine out of the sea chest of the bulk carrier Areti Gr Majuro on May 9 last year.

He pleaded guilty last month to people smuggling and importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, which carries a maximum of life imprisonment.

But on Thursday his lawyers said Blee Snr would contest the prosecution case that he was responsible for importing two parcels totalling 100 kilograms of cocaine.

"The difference is whether his culpability is one parcel or two parcels," defence barrister Andrew Boe said in Newcastle District Court. "They each contain 50 kilograms of cocaine."

Mr Boe said prosecutors would need to establish Blee Snr knew about a plot to import 100 kilograms of cocaine and, if that fact could not be resolved between the parties beforehand, then a sentence hearing in April next year could run for as long as three days.

The massive importation plot was discovered when Mr Borges - who was wearing specialist diving gear including a rebreather that does not produce bubbles - was found floating in the harbour surrounded by bricks of cocaine, totalling about 54 kilograms.

Superyacht tour operator James Blake Blee has pleaded guilty to importing cocaine through the Port of Newcastle.

It is believed he drowned due to complications with his diving equipment while he and Mr Da Silva tried to access the hull of the ship under cover of darkness.

The bulk carrier had sailed from Argentina via the Marshall Islands before arriving in Newcastle.

It is believed Mr Da Silva fled the port with millions of dollars of cocaine when Mr Martins failed to resurface and despite extensive searches, including internationally, he has never been found.

Investigators believe he may have been killed by the syndicate to silence him after the importation failed.

Blee Snr had been charged with manslaughter over the death of Mr Martins, prosecutors intending to allege he knowingly gave him faulty diving gear which led to the divers' death, but that charge was later withdrawn.

He is looking at more than a decade behind bars when he is sentenced on April 4 next year.

Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak
Picture: Simone De Peak

Meanwhile, Blee's son, Queenslander James Lake-Kusviandy Blee, 21, who is the only other person arrested over the plot, appeared in Newcastle District Court on Thursday via audio visual link from his solicitor's Gold Coast office.

He pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting his father's importation and dealing with the proceeds of crime of more than $100,000.

The case against Blee Jnr, who was granted NSW Supreme Court bail in January, relates to a 24-hour period when he is alleged to have assisted his father with the cocaine importation.

Brazilian national Bruno Borges Martins drowned while trying to retrieve bricks of cocaine from a bulk carrier in the Port of Newcastle.

Two days after Mr Martins body and the cocaine were found floating in Newcastle Harbour, Blee Snr was arrested only moments before boarding a flight to Singapore.

Blee Snr, who before his arrest was a well-known superyacht tour operator in Cairns where he ran North Queensland Superyacht Marine and Tours, had a one-way ticket and large quantities of US and Australian dollars at the time, police said.

Blee Snr had allegedly visited a number of diving shops with the two Brazilian nationals to buy equipment in the days before the failed plot.

And he allegedly bought a rebreather, which would prevent any bubbles surfacing from the divers and allow them to avoid detection.

After Blee Snr's arrest and extradition to NSW, police issued an appeal for information to find Mr Da Silva, distributing his picture and description.

But despite an extensive search, he disappeared without a trace.

Meanwhile, anyone else involved in the operation, described by investigators as a "well-drilled, professional group" have never been found.

Investigators at the scene after the Brazilian national's body was found alongside bricks of cocaine. Picture: NSW Police
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