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Vancouver man shocked after raid on his old luxury yacht finds $280M worth of cocaine

'It probably would have been a sensible vessel to use in a way,” he said. “It was a good practical vessel, and it flies under the radar a bit'

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When police stormed a luxury yacht off the coast of England and seized two tonnes of cocaine, the scene of British officers unpacking the enormous stash sparked surprise memories for a Vancouver man.

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The officers were piling the $280-million stash onto his old couch.

Aboard his old yacht.

Peter White-Robinson watched the news in wonder in Vancouver while his family and friends abroad sent him messages joking about what on earth he had been up to.

“It was a huge part of our lives, that boat,” he said of the 37-metre-long yacht grabbing headlines in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

The police raid is an unexpected chapter in the storied life of the ship — that was once a naval warship — and in the life of White-Robinson, 73, who became an accidental resident of Canada because of that yacht, and whose passion for adventure inadvertently paved the way for the narcos to move such an immense load across the Atlantic.

First, the police raid.

Two U.K. Border Force vessels were covertly monitoring the Kahu, a luxury Jamaican-flagged yacht sailing from the Caribbean, as it entered the English Channel. British authorities had been tipped off by Australian police, who learned of the plot in a sting operation earlier in the year.

I guess they thought they’d get away with it.

On Thursday, police intercepted and boarded the Kahu while it was still in international waters, about 80 miles off the southwest coast of England.

Six men — one a British citizen and five from Nicaragua — were arrested and the Kahu was escorted to a U.K. port, where a team carried out “a deep rummage search,” said the National Crime Agency.

Inside row after row of black, waterproof duffle bags, police discovered tightly wrapped bricks of cocaine, weighing more than 2,000 kilos.

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Police released photos of the seizure on the weekend when the raid was announced. In the photos, the interior of the Kahu has barely change since White-Robinson sold it under duress in Vancouver in 2013.

While living in his native New Zealand, White-Robinson was a full-blooded businessman as well as engineer.

He dreamed big and acted on them. He owned three companies, including Fitzroy Yachts, a superyacht construction firm. White-Robinson loved sailing and his yacht firm was a labour of love.

He had dreams for his family as well.

Peter and Sharon White-Robinson aboard Kahu, their former luxury yacht which was raided by British police.
Peter and Sharon White-Robinson aboard Kahu, their former luxury yacht which was raided by British police. Photo by Peter White-Robinson

He wanted to buy or build a superyacht of his own and take his family on an adventure of a lifetime, sailing around the world.

When the New Zealand Navy was decommissioning a patrol boat, White-Robinson bought it and turned it into something special. He lengthened it by 10 metres, rebuilt, refitted, and repurposed the vessel into a family adventure yacht. He boosted its power and range as well as its comfort.

While he designed the infrastructure, his wife, Sharon, designed the interior, creating impressive entertaining, cooking, sleeping, and eating quarters, as well as a classroom for their two young sons, aged 12 and 13 at the time.

In 2012, the White-Robinson family, with family friends, set off on their planned two-and-a-half-year journey, along with a crew comprised of a schoolteacher, chef, captain and engineer.

They worked their way across the Pacific Ocean, visiting numerous South Pacific Islands. They next moored in Hawaii for a few months and then pushed on to the west coast of Canada.

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They landed on Vancouver Island a year after they left Auckland.

“It was a remarkable adventure,” he said.

“While it lasted.”

It was cut short in Vancouver. After arriving, he learned his yacht-building company was facing a financial crisis. To keep his workers employed, he cut a deal with the buyer of a superyacht he was in the middle of building, turning the entire company over to him.

British police say they found more than 2,000 kilos of cocaine pressed into bricks and tightly wrapped.
British police say they found more than 2,000 kilos of cocaine pressed into bricks and tightly wrapped. Photo by Handout/National Crime Agency/AFP via Getty Images

The assets of his firm included the Kahu.

“We stopped the adventure there, really. We came ashore and walked away from it all,” he said.

“Canada was just going to be a stop along the trip. But I had a family who loves skiing, so it was quite attractive for them to end up in this place.”

He got a job as an executive with a Canadian engineering firm, and the family figured they would stay for a bit. Then Sharon got sick. Her aggressive cancer erased any plans to return home. She died in November.

“The boys are pretty committed to Canada. We’re pretty much a Canadian family now.” One son plans on joining the RCMP and another is in engineering at university.

It was hard to let go of the Kahu at the time, he said.

“It was a huge part of our lives.”

He isn’t sure what happened to the ship after he sold it. He knew the man he turned it over to resold it and at one point it was in Fort Lauderdale being offered for charters.

“I didn’t really follow it too much because it just hurt to get too close to it, so I just let things happen.”

Sales listings online show it for sale for US$1,795,000 in 2018 while moored in Florida. The U.S. sales agent did not respond to a request for information about the ship.

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The new-look Kahu moored on the English coast after being seized by police.
The new-look Kahu moored on the English coast after being seized by police. Photo by Handout/National Crime Agency/AFP via Getty Images

Seeing photos of the Kahu again was fascinating, White-Robinson said. The interior looks the same, his wife’s décor standing the test of time. The exterior had been painted. His green was replaced by blue, which he said looks great.

“But this was strange to look at the boat and see her again in such circumstance. I miss her in that way.”

It was perplexing to see it swarming with police and laden with cocaine, but he understood why the narcos might try it.

“It probably would have been a sensible vessel to use in a way,” he said. “It was a good practical vessel, and it flies under the radar a bit — it was a nice vessel but not a great, big superyacht. I guess they did it because it was reasonably discreet.”

While British newspapers were agog over an expensive luxury yacht being used in such a way, White-Robinson looked at the numbers — a $2-million ship is a pittance if it closes a $280 million drug deal.

“It seemed to me that somebody had either done some real shady deals somewhere or had bought the boat with this venture in mind,” he said.

“I guess they thought they’d get away with it. But they didn’t.”

The British government will likely sell the Kahu — if it is confiscated as criminal proceeds — and he briefly mused about buying it again.

“But I’m not in the position nowadays to do it. No, it’s gone now. Somebody will pick it up at a good price.

“Life goes on. I’m now motorhoming around instead of sailing around. It’s a new life.”

Repurposed, just like the Kahu.

• Email: ahumphreys@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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