Pubdate: Sat, 23 Dec 2006
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Richard Watts, CanWest News Service
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Conviction of Five Men From Seized Ship Unlikely, Crown Says

UCLUELET - All charges have been dropped against five men arrested
aboard a fishing boat the RCMP said was attempting to import $6.5
million in marijuana to B.C.

When police arrested the five and seized the 47-metre MV Baku in
Ucluelet May 22, they laid out on the dock 633 kg of marijuana they
discovered inside the ship.

Photographers were invited to take pictures of the marijuana bales and
police made statements linking the event to organized crime.

Now the Crown has entered stays of proceedings on all the charges
because there is little likelihood of convictions.

Robert Prior, regional director of the federal office of public
prosecutions, said in a telephone interview from Vancouver the opinion
of his office is that the evidence seized would not be admissible in
court. Without evidence, there is little reason to proceed to trial.

Jim Heller, a Victoria defence lawyer representing one of the five,
said he believes some legal issues arose over the original search of
the vessel.

For example, Heller said police sent in people from the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans instead of police officers to conduct the first
search. Some doubts also existed whether police had compiled
sufficient evidence to justify a search in the first place.

Now all charges of importing a controlled substance have been dropped
against Phil Stirling, 52, a registered owner of the Baku, formerly of
Metchosin but more recently living near Chase.

Similar charges have also been dropped against Sean Michael Cochrane,
36, of Alberta; Ralph Ross Harris, 66, of Ladysmith; John Edward
Corbin, 46, of Chase; and Walberto Armenta-Ruelas, 40, of Sonora, Mexico.

This isn't the first time a vessel that Stirling, Corbin and Cochrane
were involved with has been seized. In 2001, Stirling was owner of a
boat called Western Wind. Corbin was engineer and Cochrane was also
aboard. The Western Wind was seized in the Juan de Fuca Strait with
2.5 tonnes of cocaine worth an estimated $250 million hidden in the
bow. No charges were laid in connection with the seizure.

Baku crew members have been long released on bail except for

Heller, the Victoria lawyer now representing Armenta-Ruelas, said his
client remains in custody under immigration regulations.

This detention, he said, is despite the fact his client possesses
legal seaman's papers showing him to be what he has always maintained,
a deckhand hired in Mexico.

Meanwhile, John Green, the Victoria lawyer representing Stirling, said
his client and his family are all breathing huge sighs of relief. It's
especially gratifying, given the time of year.

"It was a great Christmas present for him and his family," said

He said his client has reclaimed the Baku, but the vessel is in sad
shape, with flooding in the engine room and other problems.

When police searched the Baku they removed about 10 tonnes of rotten
fish and then went at the vessel with fire axes, drills, even a jackhammer.

According to officers at the time, cameras were inserted into false
bulkheads and partitions to locate the marijuana hidden in disguised
compartments and false rooms.

Police said they had been tracking Baku from October 2005. The vessel
left Halifax in December 2005, headed down the coast, through the
Panama Canal and up the coast to Vancouver Island.
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