- Hamish Edmond Thompson found guilty of Australia's biggest cocaine conspiracy after 1.4 tonnes were found in his yacht.
- The 65-year-old faces life imprisonment at his sentencing in Sydney in August.
- The court hearing comes nearly 20 years after the Kiwi yachtie was caught with 500kg of cocaine in nearly identical circumstances.
A lone boat sets sail from New Zealand and heads for the horizon.
It could be any yachtie heading to the South Pacific Ocean, perhaps the week-long trip to Fiji, to cruise around the islands in the sticky summer months.
This is a business trip, not a holiday. The vessel is on course to meet the "mother ship" somewhere in the middle of the sea.
The much larger boat has chugged thousands of kilometres from South America with precious cargo stowed under its decks.
Hundreds and hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, the parcels tightly wrapped in plastic and bundled in bales.
The New Zealand yacht moors alongside the "mothership" and the drugs are carefully loaded into the smaller vessel.
The next stop is Australia; a lucrative market for the South American drug cartels where cocaine prices are among the most expensive in the world.
Watching and waiting, however, are law enforcement.
The cocaine bust is the biggest in Australia history and Hamish Edmond Thompson was at the helm.
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The 66-year-old from Christchurch has been found guilty of importing 1.4 tonnes of cocaine and will be sentenced in a Sydney courtroom next month.
The offence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Remarkably, this is a case of history repeating itself.
Because nearly 20 years ago, Thompson found himself in almost identical circumstances.
Born into privilege
Hamish Edmond Thompson was born in March 1954, a twin son of a Christchurch doctor.
He was one of seven children in an academically gifted and high achieving family; himself known as a talented student at St Bede's College.
While his siblings went on to study law and medicine, or other professional jobs, Thompson trained as a journalist but was drawn to an adventurous life at sea.
For some years, he developed a fibreglass business in Mauritius and then worked in a travel agency in France.
In his early 20s, Thompson is believed to have married a French woman and had his first brush with the law.
He told acquaintances in France of being caught in possession of cocaine but his recreational dabbling in drugs took a commercial turn.
In February 1977, aged just 22, Thompson was sent to prison for 3 ½ years.
He was caught trying to smuggle 5000 sticks of cannabis through New Zealand to Australia.
At this point in New Zealand history, organised crime was small time. A local corner dairy, in a business sense.
The most entrepreneurial Kiwi crooks, like the Mr Asia syndicate, were only just beginning to take advantage of international trade to source illicit commodities from overseas.
In fact, the "Buddha sticks" which tripped up Thompson were the same as the sackful thrown off a ship to Marty "Mr Asia" Johnstone in the early days of the infamous drug ring.
Thompson's short lag at Paparua prison, on the outskirts of Christchurch where his father practised medicine, was the start of a lengthy criminal career.
And like the Mr Asia gang, Thompson's progression in organised crime grew from local dairy to multinational corporation.
By 1992, Thompson was back in prison in Perth. The now 38-year-old was sentenced to nine years in prison for importing $2.7m of hashish into Australia.
At the time, he was on parole for an unspecified offence.
A record breaking run
While serving this prison sentence Thompson met "Sir" Thomas Graham Fry, a fellow New Zealander of similar age and character.
Fry - whose Christian name of Sir was changed by deed poll rather than a knighthood - had been caught with 200kg of chemicals used to manufacture designer drugs.
On their release from prison, the pair left Australia and set up shop in Gisborne in 1999.
They were known as "dodgy characters" who disappeared for weeks on end and had strange visitors come and go in the night.
Fry owned a large yacht, the Lone Bird, which frustrated local fishermen as the vessel was often moored in the way of their boats.
In September 1999, Fry flew to Colombia on one of his mysterious trips out of town.
There, he arranged for another yacht, the Bora Bora II, to carry a large quantity of cocaine to somewhere in the water off the coast of the North Island.
The plan was for Fry and others, including Thompson, to meet the Colombian ship offshore, unload the cocaine onto the Lone Bird and take it to Australia.
It was Thompson's job, as a master mariner, to make the Lone Bird seaworthy.
Despite his best efforts - and a large amount of money spent on repairs - they were forced to give up.
The Bora Bora II had already left Colombia with the cocaine. Fry and Thompson were running out of time to meet the boat by January 2000.
Thompson found another boat in Auckland, the Ngaire Wha, which he purchased with $160,000 wired from Melbourne.
Fry and Thompson entered the 12m ketch in a yacht race around the Bay of Islands, finishing "in the bunch", and stayed in Russell for a few days before leaving in mid-January.
The pair were kept company by a third crew member and met the Bora Bora II somewhere near the Bay of Islands, where the cocaine was offloaded.
The Ngaire Wha set sail for Sydney; the Bora Bora was abandoned in Opua. Three Colombian crew members skipped the country back to South America.
The Ngaire Wha arrived in Patonga, a beach just north of Sydney, at 3.30am on February 1, 2000.
Watching and waiting were the Australian Federal Police. They had been tracking the boat from the air, as well as by sea.
Thompson and Fry were arrested on the yacht, with 502kg of cocaine found below deck.
The street value of the drugs was estimated at $286m at the time.
The seizure was a sensation.
It was the largest ever drugs bust in Australia and two New Zealanders had been caught red-handed.
The pair and six others were convicted of importing cocaine after a seven-month trial. Fry was sentenced to life imprisonment although is eligible for parole in 2025.
Thompson was to serve a minimum of 16 years, although this was later cut to 13 years.
Despite his recidivist behaviour, a psychologist's report for the sentencing hearing considered Thompson had "some insight into the gravity of his offending" and a "strong resolve to refrain from future criminal activities".
Can't teach old sea dog new tricks
Now 59, Thompson was released on parole in 2013 and returned to New Zealand.
His arrival at Auckland International Airport triggered a red flag for Customs officers at the border.
While nothing was found in a search of his luggage, an intelligence analyst decided to take a closer look.
They discovered Thompson bought a 9ha farm in Gisborne in 2014, then a yacht moored in Tauranga.
While there could be an innocent explanation, if the old sea dog was settling down for a quiet life, the circumstances were too similar to his last escapade to ignore.
Customs put a surveillance team on Thompson but covert investigations are expensive and can run for months, if not years, without success.
They knew if anything was going to happen, his 13m yacht would be involved.
The Elakha was moored at the Tauranga Marina; a decision was made to plant a tracking device inside the boat.
As long as the battery lasted, Customs would be able to track the boat's every move by GPS.
Then, the Australia Federal Police called. They were looking for someone with a certain profile.
There had been a surge in cocaine to Australia coming from cartels in South America and Mexico, often on small vessels through the South Pacific.
Did Customs know anyone? In August 2014, Customs told the AFP about Thompson, the Elakha, and their belief he was preparing to sail into the South Pacific for a cocaine run.
Successfully planting a tracking device inside the yacht established the credibility of Customs and a joint investigation was underway.
For 2 1/2 years, they watched. And waited.
The Herald understands there was at least one failed attempt by Thompson to rendezvous with the "mother ship".
Then, the wait paid off.
Shortly before midnight on February 2, 2017, an Australian Navy patrol boat HMAS Bathurst intercepted the Elakha.
On board was the skipper Thompson, now 63, and a 54-year-old crew member with dual Swiss-Fijian nationality.
Below deck were dozens of black bags holding blocks of white powder. The total weight; an incredible 1.4 tonnes of cocaine.
For the second time in less than 20 years, Thompson had broken the record for the largest amount of cocaine ever seized in Australia.
The plan was for three other men to launch a boat from Sydney to meet the Elakha at sea, before returning to shore with the drugs.
Thompson and five other men were charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of cocaine.
The news shocked boaties at the Tauranga Bridge Marina where Thompson was well-known as a friendly fellow.
"They were great guys and everybody around here did like them," one local woman told the Bay of Plenty Times.
Last month, Thompson was convicted after pleading not guilty at a 12-week trial in Sydney.
He will be sentenced in August and the 65-year-old now faces spending the rest of life behind bars.
The charge of conspiracy to import a commercial amount of a controlled drug carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Customs says it cannot comment on the specifics of the case until after sentencing.
But speaking generally, head of investigations Jamie Bamford says Customs is working hard to build relationships with international law enforcement partners like the AFP.
"It takes a network to defeat a network," says Bamford.
"We are increasingly seeing sophisticated criminal drug smuggling syndicates, like cartels in the Americas, targeting New Zealand and Australia. We have to share intelligence with our partners and disrupt what they do."
Hamish Edmond Thompson
• 1954: Born as twin son to Christchurch doctor. One of seven children in high achieving family.
• 1977: Sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for attempting to smuggle 5000 cannabis sticks into Australia.
• 1992: Sentenced to 9 years in prison for importing $2.7m of hashish into Australia.
• 2000: Caught trying to smuggle 500kg of cocaine into Australia. Serves 13 years in prison.
• 2014: Customs and Australia Federal Police start joint investigation into Thompson and his yacht moored in Tauranga.
• 2017: Caught trying to smuggle 1.4 tonnes of cocaine into Australia.
• 2019: Convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine after three-month trial. Will be sentenced in August.