By Jakarta Correspondent CINDY WOCKNER - 22nov04
AUSTRALIAN sailor Christopher Packer, who is being held in a Bali police jail on weapons charges, said yesterday he was not a criminal and was guilty only of failing to tick a box on a form.
Mr Packer said his predicament was the result of a disgruntled Scottish backpacker who hitched a ride from Australia to Indonesia.
He accused the backpacker of making accusations to police that he was smuggling guns and drugs.
Mr Packer, 52, freely admitted he has carried guns on the restored trading vessel called the Lissa since he first set off to journey around the world five years ago.
He said they had saved his life and that of his crew on one occasion when they were attacked by pirates.
Now, rather than the
pleasant surroundings of his 60m boat, his home is a tiny jail cell, which he said "is terrible", at the Benoa Harbour Police Station.
He spoke to The Advertiser as police guards allowed him to return to the boat to use the bathroom before taking him back to the cell.
He was allowed to take some basic creature comforts with him – a fan, a John Grisham novel, a roll of carpet to sleep on and some cockroach bait "so some of them die".
His boat is "under arrest" with police onboard.
"As far as I know, I am guilty of not ticking one box when I checked into Kupang (in Timor)," Mr Packer said.
He said the agent he had employed to take care of Customs and immigration paperwork when he first arrived in Indonesian waters in mid-September had put a cross next to "arms" on the form, meaning the boat did not have any guns on board.
Mr Packer said most boats carried guns for protection.
"We have had these same guns on board for five years, absolutely, and we have had to use them. In Peru 1 1/2 years ago, pirates came on board one night and stole everything we had, then two weeks later came back with balaclavas and the whole bit and tried to climb up the side of the boat and if we didn't have guns we would be dead, absolutely," Mr Packer said.
Police have said they stopped Mr Packer's boat as it was leaving Bali headed to Malaysia on Friday afternoon after receiving a tip-off from a confidential source that he was carrying weapons on board.
Mr Packer has his own suspicions about the source of the tip-off – a Scottish backpacker and his girlfriend who cruised on the boat from Broome to Indonesia and who left at Lombok on "bitter" terms.
"He said that we were smuggling guns and trading in heroin and he told them exactly where the guns were in the boat and he told them where the heroin was, but that was fictitious and there wasn't any.
"The police went straight to the guns and arrested us."
Bali police spokesman Antonios Reniban said Mr Packer had been officially declared a suspect under Indonesian law and was being held in custody. He could be charged under the country's anti-weapons laws, which carry a maximum 20-year jail term for carrying guns without the proper licence.