A mysterious cross-border exchange of suitcases in the middle of the St. Lawrence River led to a high-speed marine police chase and the discovery of a load of hastily discarded cocaine, but police are still searching for a modified, high-powered boat — and the men on board who got away.
It was a routine patrol of the marine unit with the Cornwall Regional Task Force, a joint forces anti-smuggling and border patrol unit, that spotted a suspicious vessel on Aug. 12, 2015, near Bainsville, Ont., between Montreal and Cornwall, Ont.
The boat was large, painted flat grey and completely hollowed out with the exception of one captain’s chair. It was powered by two white Evinrude 300 horsepower outboard motors. Police could see two men on board.
In the middle of the St. Lawrence River, at a floating channel marker near the Canada-U.S. border, the boat stopped beside an 18-foot Lund fishing boat with one man on board.
With that kind of horsepower behind it, we were following at a distance. On the water, there is no blocking a lane or putting down a spike belt
As officers watched from a distance, they saw two suitcases hauled from the fishing boat onto the larger grey boat, police said.
When police moved toward them, all three men scrambled aboard the grey boat and sped away to the west.
“They hopped into the fastest boat so all could escape together and they left the other boat, the fishing boat, behind, adrift,” said RCMP Const. Jean Juneau of the Cornwall-based task force.
“With that kind of horsepower behind it, we were following at a distance. On the water, there is no blocking a lane or putting down a spike belt.”
The boat was followed into a marshy area north of Simard Island and east of Yellow Island, where two suitcases containing 47 kilograms of cocaine — tightly sealed and numbered in uniform bricks — were retrieved from the weed beds.
Police believe the men hoped to return later to retrieve the drugs, which was sealed in watertight wrapping.
Police waited a year to reveal the incident, hoping to find the boat and the men aboard quietly, said Juneau.
Investigators are still stymied and are now asking the public’s help for information.
“Someone may have heard people speaking about this, they may recognize this boat. They may have seen something that day,” said Juneau.
Police think the boat continued west into U.S. waters via the St. Regis River. The Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service, which polices the First Nation territory that straddles across the Canada-U.S. border in the area, helped in the search, Juneau said.
Investigators believe the cocaine was coming from Canada to the United States, which is unusual, since most cocaine flows north from source countries to the U.S., rather than south from Canada.
No money was found.
Police say the drug transfer is undoubtedly linked to organized crime.
“It’s not just Mr. Joe Nobody that would be able to handle that kind of quantity of cocaine,” said Juneau.
The suspect boat is described as a pleasure-craft style, possibly a Doral or Champion make, painted flat grey with two white, Evinrude 300 horsepower outboard motors. No description was given of the three men.
The abandoned Lund boat was retrieved and seized by police.
Even with the investigation unfinished, police said the interdiction at least stopped the drugs.
“A cocaine seizure of this magnitude represents a major disruption to criminal organizations involved and has prevented a significant amount of drugs from reaching our streets,” said Insp. Steve Ethier, officer in charge of the task force.