Stolen Yacht Sent Distress Signal, Then Disappeared in Hurricane Larry

Hurricane Larry off Cape Cod on Sept. 10, the day that Secret Plans' EPIRB sent a distress signal (NOAA)

Published Sep 14, 2021 1:19 AM by The Maritime Executive

Last week, the sailing yacht Secret Plans was safely moored at the Armdale Yacht Club in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On Friday she began broadcasting an EPIRB distress signal at a position about 320 nm to the southeast, right in the middle of Hurricane Larry - then disappeared. 

The owner of Secret Plans, Halifax native Graham Collins, was safely on shore. He was surprised when he got a call from the U.S. Coast Guard about the vessel's EPIRB alert. To make sure that there was no mistake, Collins' wife checked the marina, and she found the berth empty and the vessel missing, with no signs of damage or parted lines. 

Collins suspects that the yacht may have been stolen. Secret Plans went missing shortly after a drug-smuggling suspect, 32-year-old Antiguan national Karin Marley Simons (left), escaped the custody of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Simons was a qualified yachtmaster, and he had been detained in August after his own sailing yacht was intercepted off Nova Scotia.

On August 29, several days before Secret Plans disappeared, the Canadian Coast Guard and the RCMP seized 556 kilos of cocaine from a sailboat that had caught fire off the coast. They arrested Simons and a second crewmember, Canadian national Aleck Villeneuve, and brought them to Halifax.

On the morning of August 30, Simons was taken to Halifax's Dartmouth General Hospital for a medical assessment. During the hospital visit, he escaped from police custody, and he has not been seen since. On Monday, his family in Antigua told CBC that they still have not heard from him and are concerned for his wellbeing. 

Simons held a Royal Yachting Association yachtmaster certificate and had worked in the yacht-delivery and yacht-crewing world for years, his family said. Collins told media that it is possible that Simons may have made it from the hospital to the Armsdale Yacht Club, six miles away, then stolen Secret Plans and departed the country. 

The yacht headed south after leaving Nova Scotia until it ran into Hurricane Larry, which was churning northwards off the U.S. East Coast. At the time of the yacht's EPIRB alert, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 75 knots. The U.S. Coast Guard conducted an aerial search of the area on Saturday, but aircrews did not find the missing yacht or its crew. The search was suspended on Sunday morning. 

“The vibe I get is to not hope for anything,” Collins told the Halifax Chronicle Herald. “I’d love to have the boat back, but something bad enough happened that [the thief] concluded it would be better to be arrested than not be saved.”