DATE: 2019-11-03 19:30
Country Name: Panama
Location Detail: Bahia Nombre de Dios
Stolen Items: Cash, personal communication devices, laptops, entertainment electronics, credit cards, satellite phone, drone, EPIRB
A monohull with 2 persons on board departed Linton Bay, Panama for the San Blas islands. Engine issues caused the yacht to make an unplanned stop in Bahia Nombre de Dios, where no other boats were anchored. The necessary repairs were completed but the hour was late and entering the San Blas in the dark was not an option. The crew planned to lock themselves in securely for the night.
They were down below and surprised just after sunset at 1930 HRS by noise on deck. The captain went up to the cockpit and was ambushed and then restrained by 2 swimmers who had boarded and concealed themselves behind opposite sides of the spray hood. Immediately a boat with 4 other men arrived and the captain was held at gunpoint, and then forced back down into the cabin. He had alerted his crew and she had locked herself into a cabin. There were now 6 men onboard, with their faces concealed by t-shirts. The leader held a semiautomatic handgun to the captain’s head. The crew decided the cabin would not remain safe and decided to cooperate fully and came out of the cabin.
For 45 minutes the men ransacked and inspected every space in the yacht, stealing cash, credit cards, phones, cameras and video equipment, laptops, a drone, EPIRB, etc. Several of the items were well concealed. Some of the men appeared to be high on drugs, and were only marginally under the control of the armed leader. Two of the men forced the crew member back into a cabin and indicated they intended to rape her, but the leader prevented this. Once they had collected all things of value all 6 men departed in their boat.
Finally, certain the men had departed the crew exited the cabin and untied the captain. They upped anchor to return to Linton Bay. They noticed their EPIRB blinking in the water near shore, apparently it had been dropped in the water and self-activated. The crew activated DSC and called pan pan on VHF but had NO response. AIS showed large ships nearby. The yacht arrived back at Linton Bay at 2200 HRS.
The Linton Bay marina security team noticed the bright light the crew was waving and went immediately to the anchored yacht. After understanding the situation marina personnel acted quickly and contacted Aeronaval (coastguard) who arrived in a few minutes from their nearby station. Some photos were taken and they indicated they would return with police on Monday, (24+ HRS later). Which they did, and they transported the victims to an inland town to make a formal police report. After many hours waiting no report was made due to the lack of a translator. A second meeting was scheduled and the translator was available and the formal report finally made 2 days later. Follow up sessions to collect forensics on the boat were scheduled for later in the week. The victims have informed their consular officials who are expected to assist.
CSSN NOTE: Unintentionally the water activated EPIRB fulfilled part of its intended purpose. After quick confirmation from the owner’s shore side contacts, who had up to date travel plans for the yacht, it was recognized that the unexpected “land” location was an emergency. Direct contact was then made with a nearby (2miles) police station and Aeronaval station (5 miles) but no action was taken by either. DSC and pan pan calls by the yacht did not generate any response or assistance.
UPDATED REPORT: June 2, 2023 – Panamanian courts have convicted and sentenced 4 men. See CSSN News item here.