Captain Released from Mexican Prison

4 June 2009 By Kelly Sanford
Photo by Suki Finnerty

Capt. John Peerson recently was released from jail in Mexico after spending more than four months in custody. In mid-January, Peerson, who runs the 74-foot Viking Reel Screamer, was arrested in Isla Mujeres near Cancun, Mexico. Peerson was heading from Costa Rica to Miami when he tucked into Isla Mujeres to take on fuel and wait out bad weather.

After he tied up in the Port of Isla Mujeres, Mexican authorities instructed Peerson to move the sportfisher to a military dock where they intended to search the vessel for drugs. With bad weather in the area, Peerson insisted that the authorities perform the search on the boat where it was rather than risk moving it in foul conditions. During the search, the authorities found no drugs but they did discover a pistol, a rifle and a twelve-gauge shotgun as well as ammunition. The weapons belonged to the yacht’s owner and were on board for the purpose of personal protection. And, although Peerson was adamant that he already had declared the guns, he was arrested on charges of “introducing guns to Mexico,” and Reel Screamer was seized.

Peerson’s family told the Northwest Florida Daily News, “It was all just a bizarre thing from beginning to end.” The family indicated that the language barrier was a major obstacle for Peerson. They also claimed to have sent substantial sums of money to authorities in Mexico in order to expedite Peerson’s release, but were repeatedly told, “Mañana, mañana.”

Scott Rickert, whose father owns Reel Screamer, says, “If John [had been] convicted of what he [was] being charged with, he [would have been facing] a maximum of thirty years and a minimum of five years in a Mexican federal prison.

“We are grateful and relieved that Capt. John has been exonerated and released and is now home with his family,” Rickert says. “We are optimistic that the boat will soon be returned as well; we have no reason to believe otherwise.”

Another captain says that he had been detained in Isla Mujeres for a minor drug possession charge after a night out in town. He admits to not taking the authorities seriously and provoking them; he was rewarded with an arrest. He also says that the authorities received a substantial payment before he was finally released from jail.

While most yacht captains take their yachts to Mexico without incident, it's important to be mindful of these incidents, along with recent reports of increased drug-related violence The Mexican government publicly has taken a very hard line on weapons and drug trafficking within the country, and boats are well advised to have appropriate respect for the local authorities.

While Peerson maintains that he followed proper protocol in declaring the firearms aboard Reel Screamer, carrying weapons aboard when entering a foreign port always is a tricky business. Be sure to “dot your ‘i’s and cross your ‘t’s.”