An experienced Croatian captain on a round-the-world voyage has had his prized racing yacht seized on the Gold Coast after claiming he didn’t know he needed a visa to enter Australia.
Mario Saric and his sailing companion, Jerko Bonacic, from Dubrovnik, were taken into immigration custody by Australian Border Force officials near the Southport Yacht Club after the 12.9-metre vessel Exodus entered the Gold Coast seaway on June 19, 2017.
The Federal Court heard Mr Saric provisioned his vessel at the Central American port of Panama in preparation for a two-month leg of the voyage to Indonesia.
But en route to Indonesia, the Exodus was stopped and detained by a French navy vessel near the Marquesa Islands in French Polynesia, during which Mr Saric alleged much of his provisions were trampled and destroyed in the search.
Due to the encounter with the French navy, Mr Saric said he decided not to stop at the Marquesa Islands and stock up as he previously intended, leaving him with insufficient provisions to make it to Indonesia.
Around the same time, the vessel had problems with the on-board computer tripping and turning itself off, leaking pipes, faulty pumps and the desalination system and fridge failing to work.
The court heard it was around this point Mr Saric decided to head for Australia, rather than Indonesia, to undertake repairs and stock up on provisions.
In evidence, professional yacht racer Adrienne Cahalan identified a number of Pacific Island ports the vessel could have stopped at that had facilities for sailing provisions and repairs, such as Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia or Port Moresby.
But instead of heading for the closest available Pacific port, data from the vessel’s GPS navigation devices showed Mr Saric headed “more or less directly to Southport”, the court was told.
Mr Saric’s lawyers also told the court that three days prior to arriving in Australia, the boat encountered bad weather making conditions onboard difficult.
But prosecutors argued as captain and master of the yacht, Mr Saric deliberately sailed into Australian territorial waters to obtain repairs at a lower cost and with fewer delays, than if he had stopped off in the Pacific Islands.
In his judgment, Justice Roger Derrington said it was beyond belief that Mr Saric did not know about Australia’s visa laws given he was an experienced mariner who had made a number of trans-Atlantic crossings to the Caribbean.
“I do not accept that [he] was unaware of the Australia visa requirements,” Justice Derrington said.
“His claim in this respect is not credible.
“...He had access to the website Noonsite, which is well known in the sailing community, and he was aware of it.
“It provides a wealth of information to sailors … in relation to countries all over the world, including visa entry requirements and port information.
“It is incredulous that he believed he might simply obtain a visa on entry to Australia.”
Justice Derrington ruled that the vessel be forfeited to the Commonwealth.