B.C. drug-boat skipper pleads guilty in U.S.

Notorious B.C. drug-boat captain John (Philip) Stirling has pleaded guilty in a U.S. courtroom to smuggling methamphetamine on the high seas.

Stirling, 65, was arrested off the Oregon coast last April on a sailboat called the Mandalay, which wasn’t registered in either Canada or the U.S. He tried to get the charges against him thrown out, claiming the U.S. had no jurisdiction to prosecute him as a Canadian in international waters, but he lost that bid in a Portland, Oregon courtroom last week.

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So, on Monday, Stirling pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute meth, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. But Stirling’s plea deal recommends he be sentenced to 87 months.

“I have carefully reviewed every part of this agreement with my attorney. I understand and voluntarily agree to its terms. I expressly waive my rights to appeal as outlined in this agreement. I wish to plead guilty because, in fact, I am guilty,” the document signed by Stirling said.

When the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alert detected Stirling’s vessel on April 9, 2019, they tried to communicate with him in several ways. But he went below deck and ingested fentanyl before the coast guard members boarded the vessel.

“Stirling’s speech began to deteriorate and he displayed signs of a possible drug overdose. Coast guard personnel administered medical aid to Stirling and evacuated him by helicopter to Astoria, Oregon,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. “He was later transported by ambulance to Adventist Health Portland for additional treatment.”

The U.S. officers found 28 seven-gallon jugs containing liquid meth aboard the Mandalay, which Stirling has agreed to forfeit as part of the plea deal.

Stirling made incriminating statements to police and hospital staff after his overdose.

He told investigators that the drugs were “loaded in a boat-to-boat transfer in the Sea of Cortez, from an unspecified cartel, and that he was taking them to a large, also unspecified, criminal organization in Canada.”

He claimed to be doing the transport for someone else for $20,000. The boat was owned by a company in Victoria called Tropical Time Shares, which has no phone number or website. It was registered in September 2018.

Stirling’s drug-trade history dates to 1990, when he pleaded guilty to cocaine-conspiracy charges and was sentenced to five years.

In 2001, he was arrested on his boat, the Western Wind, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca with 2.5 tonnes of cocaine onboard. American authorities turned him over to the RCMP, but he was never charged.

Then, in May 2006, he was arrested again off Vancouver Island after police found $6.5 million worth of marijuana onboard a 47-metre fishing vessel registered to him.

He and several others were charged, but the charges were later dropped.

In 2011, the Americans arrested him off the coast of Colombia with 381 kilograms of cocaine bound for Australia. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years. He had been out of jail for less than a year when he was arrested again in the latest case.

Stirling’s sentencing is set for April 20.

— Kim Bolan, Vancouver Sun

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