A controversial B.C. skipper is sitting in a Florida jail after being arrested on a sailboat near Colombia with 400 kilos of cocaine aboard.
John Philip Stirling, 60, has been arrested twice before nearer B.C., on vessels containing tens of millions of dollars worth of marijuana and cocaine, but charges have never proceeded to court.
This time, however, Stirling, who once claimed to smuggle coke for the Hells Angels, will face the wrath of the American judicial system.
The RCMP in B.C. are working with American authorities on their case.
“I can confirm that the RCMP monitored the activities of those persons on board and the movement of the vessel, in working and collaborating with our U.S. partner agencies,” Supt. Brian Cantera, who heads the Federal Drug Enforcement Program in B.C., said Monday.
“The RCMP is not in a position to provide further details as this matter is before the U.S. criminal courts.”
U.S. court documents obtained by The Vancouver Sun lay out details of last month’s arrest of Stirling, two other Canadians, an Italian and a Colombian.
The U.S. Coast Guard approached Stirling’s sailboat, Atlantis V, on Oct. 17 in international waters during a routine patrol. Because the 64-foot vessel is registered in Vancouver, the coast guard sought permission from Canadian authorities to board and received it the next day.
As the coast guard neared the white and black sailboat, Italian Luis Barbaro jumped overboard. Once he was rescued, he told the coast guard “that narcotics were on the Atlantis V and that he feared for his life.”
A Colombian aboard the sailboat also jumped off and had to be rescued.
Stirling identified himself as “the master” and was aboard with the other Canadians, Thomas Arthur Henderson and Randy Wilfred Theriault, the documents say.
Ion scans detected cocaine aboard the boat and coast-guard inspectors conducted a search. “By peering through an existing hole, a boarding officer noticed four to six packages that in his training and experience looked like contraband,” an affidavit of FBI special agent Eric McGuire says.
Altogether, inspectors found 358 packages containing 400 kilograms of cocaine.
Stirling and the others were taken aboard the coast-guard ship and taken to Miami.
Further tests showed both heroin and methamphetamine on the Atlantis V, which is now docked in Florida.
Those aboard were turned over to the FBI, to whom Stirling, who often goes by the name Phil, offered to talk as long as he was released from custody. He was told that wasn’t going to happen and has now invoked his right to silence.
The Italian told authorities that the group had left Santa Marta, Colombia and was bound for Australia with the cocaine.
Stirling is well-known to the RCMP in B.C. Back in 2001, his boat, the Western Wind, was stopped by American authorities in the Strait of Juan de Fuca with 2.5 tonnes of cocaine aboard, estimated to be worth $300 million at the time. The cocaine was stamped “Colombia” and wrapped in sugar sacks.
Because the boat was bound for B.C., the Americans handed Stirling and four others over to Canadian authorities. But Stirling and the others were never charged.
Then in May 2006, Stirling and four others were arrested again off Vancouver Island after police found $6.5-million worth of marijuana on board a 47-metre fishing vessel registered to Stirling. The men were all charged with drug-related offences, but the charges were all later stayed.
Stirling pleaded guilty in 1990 to several cocaine-conspiracy-related charges and was sentenced to five years in prison.
The Atlantis V is registered to a numbered B.C. company of which Stirling is listed as the only director, according to the B.C. Corporate registry. He is listed as living in Chase, B.C. in the documents.
In 2002, Stirling told the Province newspaper that he was approached in the late ’90s by a prison acquaintance to skipper a boat from Colombia full of cocaine for the Hells Angels. Police had watched the meeting and asked Stirling to become an informant in the deal, he claimed. Stirling said the Hells Angels paid half for the Western Wind, which he bought to transport the massive coke shipment. He said police then double-crossed him, backing away from the arrangement and leaving him in the clutches of the bikers.