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31 January 2002, 08:36 pm
Brazilian Bandits On Trial
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Random Shots Killed Sir Peter Blake

The circumstances surrounding Sir Peter's murder were recounted publicly yesterday for the first time by his close friend, yachtsman Geoffrey Bullock, as he gave evidence against the bandits in a Brazilian court.
A masked Brazilian bandit fired two shots blind into Sir Peter Blake's cabin on Seamaster, killing the yachting legend almost instantly as he had his back turned while trying to fix his jammed rifle.

Ricardo Colares Tavares then stepped forward and fired twice more, as if he was "target shooting".

The six are charged with armed robbery resulting in death after they allegedly stormed Seamaster on December 9. Sir Peter was shot during the attack at Fazendinha, about 10km from Macapa at the mouth of the Amazon River.

Mr Bullock and two other Aucklanders, Rodger Moore and Leon Sefton, are testifying in the case, which is being tried in the Amapa Federal Court in Macapa under tight security.

Mr Sefton, a cameraman on Seamaster for blakexpeditions, took the stand to tell how he had a sore throat on December 9 and went to bed.

The crew had been on the deck having dinner, listening to music and having a few beers, looking forward to heading back into the ocean after an exploratory environmental trip up the Amazon.

Eight were on deck when he went to bed, and 10 were aboard in total.

He soon heard "very loud voices on deck and people stumbling around and things being knocked around".

He left his cabin and saw Sir Peter in his cabin with the door half-closed. He thought Sir Peter had been going to bed but had been disturbed by the noise, "which made me think I had better get on deck to see what the problem was, not knowing we had been boarded".

"At that time I had no idea of the real reason Peter was in his cabin, which was obviously to get his rifle."

Mr Sefton headed towards the upper deck but got only as far as the door leading to the companionway.

He looked up and saw a bandit (identified as Isael Pantoja da Costa) coming down wearing a balaclava and holding a pistol in front of him.

Mr Sefton put his hands up in surrender.

The bandit was surprised to see him and looked around the cabin for Sir Peter, who had raced below soon after the bandits stormed the boat, saying to the crew on deck: "This is for real."

Sir Peter came out of his cabin with his rifle at his side, talking quickly and yelling at the bandit to get off his boat.

Because Sir Peter had been advancing so quickly and shouting so aggressively, the bandit backed up the steps, said Mr Sefton.

He told how he next saw Sir Peter flinch and there was a rapid exchange of gunfire.

He could not say who shot first.

He took cover in Sir Peter's cabin, where he saw a second rifle and bullets on the bed.

He grabbed the bullets when the shooting stopped and ran to give them to Sir Peter in case he needed more, "because at that stage I felt we were going to be executed".

He saw Sir Peter trying to fix his rifle and offered him the ammunition, but Sir Peter declined. He insisted Mr Sefton go to the bow and clear the hatch as an escape route.

"When I got back to Peter, he was lying down on his back not moving. His head was resting on the doorway step and when I got to him I realised he was already dead."

Mr Sefton said he tried for 15 minutes to resuscitate Sir Peter while calling for help.

By the time he got on deck the bandits had gone, taking watches, compact discs, cameras and other items as well as Sir Peter's rifle and the boat's inflatable dinghy.

The crew on deck had been subdued with guns to their heads.

Mr Bullock told the court that as the bandits were leaving he had to restrain another crew member, Sir Peter's close friend Don Robertson. He made him lie on the deck because he had been desperate to go to Sir Peter's aid.

As the robbers were leaving, they opened fire again and Mr Robertson narrowly avoided becoming a second victim when a bullet scraped across his back.

Mr Moore told the court he had grappled with Colares, who was the first to board Seamaster and who knocked him unconscious with a heavy blow from a pistol.

The three New Zealanders gave evidence at a hearing lasting more than 14 hours.
Catherine Masters/News Editor
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