A skipper who admitted to collecting around 200kg of cocaine from a container ship off the coast of Sydney has learnt his fate after telling a court he only did it because threats were made to his family.
Jake Laurens Hurkmans, 29, faced the NSW District Court on Friday after pleading guilty to possessing a commercial quantity of an unlawful border-controlled drug and being reckless with the proceeds of a crime.
Judge Kate Traill told the court she took into account the remorse, regret and embarrassment Hurkmans had shown following the offending as well as the non-exculpatory duress he endured when he tried to back out.
PLAN TO TRANSPORT MONEY
The court was told the South Australian man was put into contact with a man named Alex through a diving friend and was told Alex was looking for “someone with construction experience”.
After a series of meetings, the pair spoke about future work together and Alex said he wanted someone to “take a big bag of money out to sea”.
Hurkmans initially rejected Alex’s offer as he was suspicious the request was illegal, but he was later contacted by Alex again at the beginning of 2020 and told he couldn’t find anyone else experienced enough to tackle the job.
With the Covid-19 pandemic beginning to set in, Hurkmans was losing work and agreed to do the job when Alex promised him $50,000, the court was told.
Alex bought Hurkmans a Kingfisher boat, which the 29-year-old had to pick up from Sydney himself.
“When he heard the boat was going to be purchased in his name he was scared because he hadn’t provided any details and started to think he was getting in way over his head,” Judge Traill told the court.
“He decided he would do it once and wouldn’t do it again.”
The court was told Hurkmans did not think the job was about drugs at this point, only that he would be transferring money.
On March 7, 2021, he rented a car from Adelaide and drove the fishing boat to Kurnell in Sydney’s south where he stayed at a beachside cabin and also leased a storage unit for one week.
CHANGE OF PLANS
Hurkmans then received messages saying there had been a “mistake” and he was meant to “bring some things back” from the ship, the court was told.
“He said, ‘that’s not happening, I don’t want to be involved’ … packed up his gear, left the boat where it was and made the decision to leave,” Judge Traill told the court.
“He messaged the men saying ‘you know where the bag and the boat is, I’m not staying’ but his phone kept going off as he began to drive to Adelaide.”
Judge Traill told the court that Hurkmans had been sent a series of messages and photos from three different men, including Alex, telling him he didn’t have a choice.
THREATS TO FAMILY
Hurkmans then received a picture of the front of his parents’ house and another image of his partner and dog, the court was told.
“Accidents can happen at any point to those you care about and doing what we’re asking you to do is a great way to avoid those accidents,” a message accompanying the pictures said.
The 29-year-old froze, was petrified, and took the messages as a threat.
He decided to turn around and went back to the boat rather than going to police and asking for help, the court was told.
About 2.45am on March 11, Hurkmans took the boat to the Hawkesbury Park boat ramp at the Royal National Park and travelled up the Georges River towards Botany Bay.
He travelled to the GPS location he was given as a 330m container ship passed him and dropped 11 buoyant containers into the sea for him to pick up.
It took Hurkmans two hours to collect the containers before travelling back to Botany Bay where he was arrested by police.
He immediately told police of the threats to his family, and AFP officers were sent to their homes in Adelaide to make sure they were all right, the court was told.
Meanwhile, police found 11 containers, each with a sports bag inside that had bricks of cocaine wrapped in plastic.
Police found 199 bricks, which equated to 199.1kg of cocaine with a pure weight of 155.1kg.
They also found $520,000 in cash in the storage unit.
Judge Traill told the court that Hurkmans acknowledged he was “naive to not think it was more than substantial illegal activities” and suspected he was “way over his head”.
Judge Traill found Hurkmans had offended because he was under “non-exculpatory duress” due to the threats on his family.
While he tried to withdraw from the criminal enterprise, Judge Traill said he saw the photos with the implied threat and felt he was “too involved” to go to police.
“The offender raised concerns for his family with police at the time of the arrest,” she said.
“There is no verbatim account of what he said – they were not being held hostage but clearly he had concerns for his family due to the threats.”
The judge did not accept the Crown prosecutor’s remarks that Hurkmans “made it up” so he could “persuade his family he had not done the wrong thing”.
The court was told Hurkmans did not have a “medial” role in the drug network, as the “Crown do not know the complete nature of the criminal enterprise and it’s difficult to ascertain his role in the hierarchy”.
Judge Traill said the 29-year-old was being “utilised” by others and was being told what to do.
She found he was not a “sophisticated offender”, as he did not attempt to conceal his identity when booking the storage container and cabin.
“He knew what he was doing was illegal but it was only day before the offending he was told he had to pick things up from the ship … that he realised it was probably drugs,” Judge Traill said.
“The primary motivation on the day was threats and concerns for the family and himself, but it wasn’t his sole motivation.”
Hurkmans was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 11 years, backdated to his arrest in March 2021 with a non parole period of six years and six months.
He will be eligible for parole on September 10, 2027.