French yacht thief escapes charge, taxpayers foot $15k bill

A MAN suspected of stealing a $200,000 yacht in France, abandoning it in the Pacific Ocean and turning up in Wooli to claim it when it washed ashore in April, is likely to escape without questioning.

And the taxpayer is footing the $15,000 bill for removing the vessel from the beach after it began breaking up in king tides early in May.

To date the NSW Police, Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force have all professed no interest in the knowledge of the vessel, the 11-metre Grand Soleil 37 christened Nirvelli, which was reported stolen almost three years ago.

The man, who identified himself to Wooli residents as Lucien, appears to be the same Lucien L the yacht's original owner identified to a French journalist, Delphine Fleury.

He is the same man associated with his yacht's disappearance from its moorings in the French Mediterranean port of La Seyne-Sur-Mer in August 2013.


Tim Howard

Ms Fleury, following the story for a sailing magazine, said the boat's owner was able to find social media postings and other internet references which tracked the boat from the Mediterranean to the Panama Canal and finally the South Pacific.

He has also seen New Zealand TV footage of the man abandoning the vessel to board a New Zealand naval vessel.

There were also a number of reports of planes and ships spotting the largely unscathed vessel as it floated, abandoned off the coast for the next year.

Wooli locals said the man stayed around for two days, inspecting the boat, which he claimed to own.

"He was talking about getting some money together through his family," said one resident.

"It wasn't long before the story came out the boat was probably stolen, but he disappeared. He probably caught the first plane out of here."


The lonely stretch of Wooli Beach where the French yacht Nirvelli finally came to rest.
The lonely stretch of Wooli Beach where the French yacht Nirvelli finally came to rest.

The appearance of the boat has been a major talking point for Wooli residents.

"When you think about it, it's a bit unusual to come to check out the boat if you've stolen it," a resident, who spent some time with the man he knew as Lucien, said.

"You would think he would have nothing to do with it. Maybe he bought it off the person who originally stole it."

He said RMS workers eventually removed the vessel from the beach, breaking it up and sending it to landfill.

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