Super yacht intrigue unfolding across Pacific

SOUTH SEAS MYSTERY: Super yacht Phocea.
SOUTH SEAS MYSTERY: Super yacht Phocea.

A tale involving a seized super yacht in Vanuatu and a mystery after-hours jet landing in Papua New Guinea is turning into an international intrigue with few clues offered to what is really going on.

Suspected of illegal activities, the 75-metre long four-masted yacht Phocea has been under arrest in Port Vila harbour since it arrived from Italy, via Panama and Tonga, on July 14 last year.

A Thai with a Vanuatu diplomatic passport, Vu Anh Quan Saken, reputedly owns it, but the Vanuatu Government cannot establish if it is registered anywhere.

So it sits, stateless, in Vila harbour at the height of the cyclone season.

Phocea caused political uproar in both Tonga and Vanuatu after cabinet ministers went aboard it before it had even cleared customs.

Five women from the Philippines and Serbia were flown from New Zealand to Tonga to join it and there have been unconfirmed reports of diamonds, sacks of cash and illicit drugs.

The latest twist is unfolding in Papua New Guinea where, late on Thursday night, a Boeing Business Jet – a modified 737 – landed at Jackson Airport after its offices were closed.

Quan Saken, a principal in a company known as Amazonia Of The Pacific which is attempting to market agricultural produce internationally, was aboard with another Asian, also with a Vanuatu diplomatic passport, Saken Henry. The relationship of the two men is unknown but Vanuatu police have been trying to talk to them in connection with the mysterious Phocea arrival in July.

Also at the airport was Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot on an unannounced "private mission".

The PNG National paper today quoted PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill saying investigations were continuing into the unexpected landing.

"Its crew and certain individuals on board were being questioned by relevant government agencies as part of the investigation," O'Neill said.

The jet has been allowed to leave with its passengers, but its destination is unknown.

The newspaper said the jet, an International JetClub Ltd jet registered N111, had flown in from the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the going no where Phocea continues to attract tourist attention in Port Vila.

The Vanuatu Daily Post says the government there would like it to leave, but its paperwork is out of order and no one can establish where it is registered.

The newspaper says local authorities have discovered that Phocea had been registered in Luxembourg, France, Vanuatu and Malta when legally a ship must be registered in one country alone.

Phocea was built in Toulon in 1976 for yachtsman Alain Colas who called her Club Mediterranee. She competed in a Trans-Atlantic race for Colas, came second. Colas disappeared at sea the following year.

In 1982 French business man Bernard Tapie bought Phocea and had her converted to a private yacht at great expense. Tapie christened her Phocea, in honour of the Phoenicians who founded Marseilles where she was refitted.

Tapie later went to jail over corruption offences and in 1997 French Lebanese socialite Mouna Ayoub purchased the yacht – after she sold one of her diamonds, the largest yellow diamond in the world, and several other lesser jewels to pay for the $17 million refit.