Excerpt from "In The Mind of A Mountie" by T.M. 'Scotty' Gardiner
Chapter 114: The Vessel Samarkanda
As the work to finalize the importation of the 13.5 tons of hashish by the vessel Toernyn was nearing completion in the year 1978-79, the U.S. drug scene produced a flurry of new information. In cooperation with their U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) counterparts, our investigators learned a west coast of Vancouver Island location, given as 'Leonard Island' which proved to be 'Lennard Island,' was a landmark being used by narcotic drug persons in the Mexican-Colombian milieu. Additionally, data then gleaned by the DEA indicated a large shipment of hashish was being prepared and destined for an unknown location in British Columbia.
Lennard Island is little more than a nicely offshore, uninhabited outcropping of rock just south of Ucluelet. Its significance is its flashing navigational hazard light, the only construction upon this rocky outcrop.
Within a matter of weeks the intelligence gatherers learned the planned shipment was to be conveyed by a vessel named the Samarkanda. Indications were the shipment would be a large one. This type of preliminary, fragmentary and scant information becomes vital. The experience gained from the Toernyn investigation formed the basis for our planning.
Evidence from the DEA confirmed the Samarkanda was underway. The vessel was located on a northerly course; continuous monitoring was put in place. With her larger size and greater speed, it was apparent Military support would be essential, and soon.
At an investigative planning meeting the condensed core of all intelligence identified a 'calculated assumed destination.' First, the Toernyn had retained a navigational course with apparent confidence. Every indication was she knew exactly where she was going. Second, the uninhabited isolation of No-Name Bay [our label for the unnamed inlet where the 13.5 tons of hashish had been seized] made it an ideal off-loading site, and a suitable location for trans-shipment. Third, our belief was the site may have been used previously. Fourth, our methodology to effect seizure of the hashish, the search and release of the Toernyn and her crew, all indicated there would be no suspicion we recognized or even suspected the site as a prized importation location. Fifth, the information 'Lennard Island' had surfaced as a directional marker in the drug trade, but no other of the several fixed, nautical markers along the coast appeared to be given. Only Lennard Island with its proximity to No-Name Bay -- did that indicate the Samarkanda would have No-Name Bay as her destination? All pointers put it in the 'high probability' category, but other potential sites could not be disregarded.
Admiral Michael Martin had assumed command of the Naval base in 1979. We met by appointment, a time being set to allow the Admiral to scrutinize the assistance rendered by his predecessor in the Toernyn investigation. For the meeting I was accompanied by Dave Staples, Admiral Martin had his executive Officer whose name was White. The Admiral's office displayed all the trappings of command -- spacious, bright, everything in its place and a beautiful, glass-topped, very large desk.
For our meeting Admiral Martin was fully versed of the previous year's assistance. He greeted Dave and me warmly. His enthusiasm to give us assistance was overwhelming. I explained the information we had, cautioning that nothing was definite, but simultaneously my confidence that first the Samarkanda would certainly sail into Canadian waters and second, No-Name Bay was a distinctly possible destination.
"Display the charts," the Admiral directed to Officer White.
Unfolding a series of charts atop the Admiral's desk, White, also obviously extremely well prepared for our meeting, started to explain the nautical components that would apply. These charts were large, and they became larger each time one with an increased scale was displayed. In fact, those charts more than covered that large desk -- they kept slipping off to the floor.
"This won't do," said Admiral Martin. "Spread the charts out on the floor."
That Officer White did. The scene in that office changed in a remarkable way. Four upright bodies seated at strategic positions around a command desk, were replaced with four Officers on a carpeted floor, on their elbows and knees with noses in very close proximity to the floor, posteriors angled skyward!
The Admiral's enthusiasm was unlimited: he was positioning Naval equipment and staff in battle-like formation, then he ventured forth to do the same thing with the Mounted Police investigators. With four noses extremely close to the surface of that map, the Admiral caught himself. He paused. His eyes squinted upwards to meet mine.
"I'm sorry, Scotty, it's not for me to direct members of your command."
"You know, Admiral," I replied, "that was the farthest thing from my mind. What I am wondering is what one of your staff will think if he enters this office to find four backsides staring him in the face!"
Our plan was formulated -- we had the assistance of two destroyers each with a complement of 250 men. One requirement was that an Officer of our Force had to be on board. I assigned my recently-arrived assistant, Inspector Bruce Terkelsen. Aerial assistance from the Argus tracker aircraft at CFB Comox was assured.
The Samarkanda had sailed from a believed location in Colombia. Her steady course northward was maintained. Our investigators analyzed every possibility -- the vessel's destination remained in doubt but No-Name Bay loomed as the potential site.
Our command post on Mt. Ozard was reactivated, manned by Inspector Staples and Staff Sergeant Hawkes. Surveillant teams were positioned at strategic coastal locations.
Upon entering Canadian waters the Samarkanda came under very watchful eyes. The two Naval destroyers and their combined crews of 500 men left their stand-by moorings and slipped silently seaward behind the Samarkanda. As if on cue, the Samarkanda reduced speed as she neared Ucluelet. She altered course toward shore. Still slowing as if to await darkness, as night fell the vessel sailed into that inlet we identified as No-Name Bay.
This activated one surveillant team whose concealed position was of necessity in rugged terrain on high ground above the inlet. From that team Constable Bruce Bowman, proving the physical and mental strengths that were and remained his trademark, manoeuvred to a position where he could witness the off-loading of the bales of hashish. Restricted communication was maintained. The destroyers took positions toward the inlet to prevent any vessel's escape.
For a variety of logistical, evidentiary and safety reasons and with Bruce Bowman retaining a direct sighting of the off-loading activity at the Samarkanda, action was withheld until the earliest rays of daylight peeped across the sky. The approach manoeuvre was in place. Dave Staples and Bob Hawkes went aloft in the helicopter. Flying high over the inlet and with light sufficient to see the shoreline, an unbelievable, unimaginable sight met their eyes. The Samarkanda was near the shore -- listing heavily to one side, the outgoing tide revealing the vessel was aground, the inlet's water depth insufficient to keep her afloat!
A clear miscalculation by her skipper. The Samarkanda had entered the inlet at high tide when the water depth allowed her to sail close to the shore. But the crew overlooked, misread or totally missed one vital navigational point. This inlet had a deep, centrally-located channel but beyond that channel there was immense tidal influence on the water depth. In their haste, miscalculation of time required to off-load, error in understanding charts, concentration in off-loading what proved to be a 32-ton shipment of baled cannabis or a simple lack of observation, the crew overlooked one important fact -- while they worked strenuously unloading that pile of bales the tide was going out. The vessel -- and they -- were stranded!
No vessel, crew or drug shipment fell into the clutches of investigators easier than that. Easy, yes, but largely because of experience gained from the extensive work undertaken with the Toernyn importation. If investigators are allowed to smile, this was their glorious opportunity!
The arrests were made and arrangements completed to transport the accused and the seized drugs to Victoria. But what to do with the Samarkanda?
Trained divers from the Naval destroyers inspected the hull. There was no damage, the vessel had been gently lowered into a muddy sea-bed by the gradually-receding tide. The inspection of the vessel was something else. The Samarkanda was very old, very rusted and, by every sensible measure, unseaworthy. She was of single hull construction. Her engine mechanism was so out-dated the Naval destroyers' personnel could not determine how it worked.
But wait! One of the destroyers had an 'old salt,' labouring away as an oiler in her engine room -- a seasoned old Brit whose entire life had been spent on the high seas. This old tar climbed aboard the Samarkanda and he flashed a knowing smile.
"She's an old boom-defence boat, built in the early years of the war. She was designed to do nothing but open and close those boom-gates that stopped the German U-Boats. She had a life expectancy of five years."
Activating three or four controls, a press of the starter button and that old salt had that engine spring to life. From engine room oiler to Hero of the Day with the press of a button!
Again the drugs were stored courtesy of the Military. Weighing in at 32 tons, that was up to that time, the largest drug seizure in Canada. The eventual destruction was done at the most efficient disposal facility then on Vancouver Island, the incinerator at the Municipality of North Cowichan.
To commemorate the Naval destroyers' participation in our two large seizures, a tea-and-crumpets get-together was held on board one of the destroyers. To show the Force's appreciation, RCMP plaques were given to the Commanders of the vessels. The plaques were mounted on the bridge.
The follow-up Court work was decidedly disappointing to the point of being demoralizing. Against strong Prosecution evidence, the Defence placed the motion the Samarkanda upon approaching the Ucluelet-Tofino area experienced engine trouble. By the nautical code, with safety of lives and cargo safe-keeping being considered, the vessel sailed into this unknown inlet 'of necessity' which afforded immunity in this life-and-cargo-saving exercise. The Court accepted that motion, dismissed the evidence of the old salt starting the boat with ease which allowed her to sail under her own power to Victoria, and disallowed the Crown to call rebuttal evidence to refute any suggestion of necessity. A very disturbing aspect of the decision was when the Judge, His Honour Montague Drake, declared to the Court that from a discussion he had the previous evening he concluded that a Defence of necessity was appropriate.
All accused were dismissed. They all vanished immediately they left the Court room. Their release thwarted all possibility of identifying who the importers were in this case. This was a totally-incorrect decision, bewildering to all and frustrating for the investigators. That decision was in every sense totally contrary to the public interest. The Crown lodged an immediate appeal.
The appeal process took five years, five whole years to conclude the Trial Judge had been wrong. The Crown's appeal was upheld and a new trial ordered! After five years -- where was that crew to be found in Mexico or wherever? Correctly a new trial was not pursued, as it would be futile. It was during the fourth year of that wait-for-the-appeal period that I took my retirement.
On a positive note the Samarkanda investigation was a success in many ways. In particular the No-Name Bay site had been confirmed. This allowed for a revamped intelligence gathering and investigative process to detect future importations. And 32 tons of drugs were removed from distribution. On the humorous note, place yourself as an investigator arresting that stranded-by-low-tide group of scofflaws alongside their keeled-over vessel and 32 tons of contraband. To the date of my retirement there were no other shipments into this inlet, but there was one possibility which I declined!
In the year following the Samarkanda investigation I was contacted by the DEA authorities. Their evidence [later proven correct] was that another hashish shipment was on a northward course off the western seaboard. Its destination was unknown, possibly British Columbia.
"Scotty," my DEA counterpart said, "this vessel has a 37-ton load. Would you like to raise your existing record of 32 tons?"
"Not really," I replied, "but from an enforcement position [i.e. protect sources of information, deflect suspicion, contribute to a larger operation], do you wish to have the vessel enter Canadian waters?"
"Oh, no, we can make the arrests," he replied. "I was just giving you a chance to increase your record. But there is one other consideration: this vessel is full of rats."
My reply was quick, "You make the arrests. Our laws are in many ways very lenient. We would need to hold that vessel for at least months to meet our Court requirements. What will your law allow?"
"The vessel and cargo will be immediately incinerated at sea, right to the water line."
The DEA seized that shipment. We'll never know if it was headed for No-Name Bay -- a name I shall never forget.
Note: A boom-defence was used in World War II. It was a suspended net strategically placed across river mouths, or at harbour mouth locations as a precaution against German U-Boats. In the war years I was raised at Burntisland, Fifeshire on the north shore of the Firth of Forth, with the City of Edinburgh directly across the approximately six-mile-wide river. Our home had a direct view of the boom-defence across the Firth of Forth, positioned immediately east of Edinburgh and near the military garrison island of Inch Keith. A boom-defence boat sat permanently atop the boom, its only job was to open and close the net's gate to allow passage to friendly vessels. On the Forth these openings and closings were frequent as vessels went upriver to the shipyards at Rosyth for replenishment of supplies or repairs.
This opening-closing work by the boom-defence boat was commonplace chatter among us boys at Burntisland as we, in our youthful way, praised every returning warship, destroyer, minesweeper or whatever as heroes who had just inflicted severe losses upon the enemy. Was it possible, just possible, that I had from l940 to 1945 watched the Samarkanda at work?
Copyright 2010, T.M. Gardiner
Read an excerpt: Chapter 124: When Crime Remains Unsolved.