Notorious B.C. drug smuggler arrested again

Former Metchosin resident accused of transporting liquid-meth containers off the coast of Oregon

VANCOUVER — Less than a year after former Metchosin resident John (Phil) Stirling was released from a U.S. prison where he served seven years for cocaine smuggling, the controversial sea captain is back behind bars.

Stirling, 65, was arrested April 9 off the Oregon coast on a sailing vessel allegedly carrying 28 seven-gallon jugs containing liquid methamphetamine.

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According to U.S. court documents, Stirling deliberately overdosed on fentanyl after U.S. Coast Guard boarded his boat.

He told them he didn’t have vessel documentation and refused to produce identification.

“Upon further questioning by U.S. Coast Guard personnel, Stirling’s speech began to deteriorate until he was only able to communicate in mumbles,” states a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. “Stirling was displaying signs of a possible drug overdose.”

Coast guard agents administered medical aid to Stirling and took him by helicopter to Astoria, Oregon.

He was later transported by ambulance to Adventist Health Portland.

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John (Phil) Stirling in a police mugshot. - Multnomah County Sheriff's Office

The criminal complaint, signed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Todd Clements, says Stirling was overheard telling a nurse at the first hospital that he had taken a “large amount” of fentanyl that was “pure.”

“Stirling also told the nurse that he did it because he realized the coast guard was about to board him because he was smuggling,” the complaint says. “He also stated that he wasn’t trying to kill himself by taking the fentanyl, but that the amount he took was from a ‘kilo.’ ”

At the second hospital, Stirling told a nurse that he had been “busted.”

“When the nurse asked what he had been doing, Stirling stated that he was a drug smuggler. Stirling stated that he did not want to go to jail for the rest of his life and that he had a ton of meth and 10 loads of fentanyl that he was taking to Canada,” the complaint says.

Stirling is facing one count of possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine.

The sailboat he was aboard, the Mandalay, is registered in Seattle. U.S. officials said it was spotted during a routine coast guard patrol, travelling north about 225 nautical miles from Newport, Oregon.

Stirling has made his first court appearance in Portland and was ordered remanded in custody until his trial.

He was released from a U.S. prison on April 27, 2018, after serving most of a 71Ú2-year sentence handed to him by a Florida judge in 2013.

In 2011, he was arrested off the coast of Colombia on another vessel with 381 kilograms of cocaine bound for Australia.

Stirling is well known to the RCMP in B.C.

In 2001, his boat, the Western Wind, was stopped by American authorities in Juan de Fuca Strait 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.

In May 2006, Stirling and four others were arrested 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 later stayed.

Stirling pleaded guilty in 1990 to several cocaine-conspiracy-related charges and was sentenced to five years in prison.

In 2002, Stirling told The Province newspaper that he was approached in the late 1990s 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.

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