The captain of the vessel and its chief engineer both appeared in court on Aitutaki on Wednesday, appearing before three Justices of the Peace.
The duo was charged with failing to declare previous convictions. Both are said to have serious convictions for drug trafficking. They were each convicted and fined $1000.00 plus $50.00 court costs.
Cook Islands Police Service spokesperson Trevor Pitt said that the case had been prosecuted by the Customs department using its own legal counsel and under its own Act. Last Thursday, Colombian national Luis Felipe Garcia Atehortua was fined $1000.00 by Justice Potter in the Cook Islands High Court. Atehortua had allegedly flown from Fiji to Rarotonga to provide assistance to the crew. He was apprehended at Rarotonga International Airport on March 9, attempting to leave the country.
Atehortua was charged with failing to declare previous convictions. CINews can now reveal his previous convictions were also for drug trafficking offences. The Colombian left Rarotonga for Tahiti last Saturday. He was barred from entering New Zealand, Australia, and the US. He was also refused by carriers Air New Zealand and Virgin Airlines at the airport, due to his criminal history.
Yesterday, prime minister Henry Puna spoke at the opening of the new Ocean Monitoring Centre, (see story on page 11). Puna commended the agencies involved with the investigation for their “sterling efforts”. He also issued a stern warning to would-be criminals planning on carrying out illegal activity within the Cook Islands oceanic territory, saying the government would be vigilant to halt any attempts by syndicates to ply illicit trade or undertake non-peaceful activity.
“We will seek the maximum fines and forfeiture possible under our laws and where there are gaps in our legislation, we will rigorously strengthen these for the safety of our people and our ocean”.
Pitt told CINews that aspects of the case related to wharfage fees and the seaworthiness of the vessel were still being looked into.
The Nino Maravilla arrived in the Cook Islands on February 22, with eight crew members aboard.
They were said to be seeking “refuge”.