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NZ: Missing skipper on sex charges (Auckland)

Publish Date: 14 Jan 2012
Source: / Fairfax NZ
By: Victoria Robinson and Ian Steward

An Auckland man facing sex charges is at the heart of a Mary Celeste mystery in the Cook Islands.

Police received a distress call from the yacht Bonny at 9am on Tuesday, January 3, the Cook Islands News reported.


The yacht was sailing in calm seas about 20 nautical miles off the coast of Rarotonga when the skipper made the call to Cook Islands authorities, complaining of breathing problems.

Cook Islands patrol boat Te Kukupa responded to the call, with a doctor and nurse on board.

They discovered the Bonny in good condition with its dinghy on board, but the skipper missing. No-one else was on the yacht.

Te Kukupa searched for the missing skipper, but found only a lifejacket floating nearby.

Police refused to comment yesterday, but earlier told the Cook Islands News they were contacting the skipper's next of kin.

The man believed to be skippering the yacht is due to appear in Auckland District Court next month on 27 sex charges, including rape and unlawful sexual conduct. His name is suppressed.

The owner of the yacht declined to speak but a friend of the owner said yesterday he understood the missing skipper was a businessman who took the yacht without permission and sailed it to the Cook Islands.

The friend of the yacht owner said the businessman had been negotiating to buy the Bonny.

There was an agreement the man would pay for it over time and $20,000 was still owing. He made alterations to Bonny and said he would pay what was owed once he had sold his Henderson house.

The sale went through in late December, but no more money was paid to the yacht owner.

"He basically didn't show with the money and the boat was gone," the friend said.

It is understood the man did not clear customs before leaving New Zealand.

The friend said the yacht owner had a call from New Zealand police yesterday, telling him they had his boat in the Cook Islands and a warrant had been issued for the businessman's arrest.

Harbourmaster Captain John Cornwell told the Cook Islands News that police had advised him the yacht was still considered to be a crime scene.

New Zealand police said the search for the man was a matter for Cook Islands police, and refused to comment further.

Copyright © 2012 Fairfax New Zealand Limited