The known facts behind her disappearance were explained in a series of feature stories in CI News earlier this year. However, Henderson is determined to pursue with a deeper investigation into the incident. He says what he has discovered so far highlights “deceptions and cover-ups” by skipper Alex Roehrs. He says it also raises questions about the performance of authorities on Rarotonga, including the police. This is the second in a series of stories on the investigation.
Alexander MacKinnon Roehrs arrived at Rarotonga alone on the 54-foot ketch the Zangano at 1.30pm on Wednesday August 30, 2016.
The yacht had to be assisted to berth as Roehrs claimed the yacht had steering problems. This need for assistance to anchor may on first sight seem inconsequential, yet it was later discovered his apparent lack of seamanship was repeated in Fiji and Samoa, where he managed to get into sailing difficulties there.
From all reports Alex Roehrs “was an accident waiting to happen,” says Rod Henderson.
Equipped with the latest satellite guidance and communication technology the Zangano was equipped for safety, yet Roehrs,
astonishingly, failed to call up on his onboard radio when in range of the island.
Vital life-saving time was squandered and it wasn’t until he reached Rarotonga that he made his startling announcement. Forty-three-year-old Lissette Brito, his sailing companion and life partner, had gone missing at sea. Presumably, Roehrs claimed, she had fallen overboard while he was asleep.
He said her disappearance had occurred four days earlier, on August 26. Tests conducted by the yacht’s new owner established the ship to shore radio was fully operational.
Roehrs also neglected to use his onboard satellite telephone or to email anyone to raise the alarm that Brito was missing.
Once in Rarotonga, Roehrs gave Cook Island authorities the coordinates allegedly pinpointing the vicinity in which he said Brito had gone missing. None of this testimony can be corroborated as he reportedly wiped all data from his GPS tracking/guidance system as well as his personal computer, on arrival.
According to the coordinates given by Roehrs, he was 80 miles west of Rarotonga when he said he discovered his passenger was gone. Had he retraced the course he covered whilst he claims he was asleep, he may have not only been able to rescue his companion, but would have been closer to Aitutaki to raise the alarm.
Roehrs told Rarotongan authorities that when he discovered his partner was missing, he searched for two hours. The reason he gave for the limited search time was that he was low on fuel. After sailing from Australia to Fiji, then from Fiji to Samoa and Samoa to Rarotonga, he couldn’t or wouldn’t sail back to look for Lissette.
This is itself a glaring admission that he failed in his duty as the skipper of the yacht to do all in his power to rescue his stricken passenger. More will be said about this aspect of the case later.
Roehrs told authorities it took him three days to sail to Rarotonga after aborting the search – it has been calculated the distance to travel should have only taken a day and a half at the most.
The Zangano’s new owner, Keith Christian gave several interviews to the local press and has outlined his extensive dealings with Roehrs including the fact the boat had ample fuel onboard when it docked here.
Other island residents also have stories about their contact with Roehrs and his odd, if not bewildering, demeanor relative to this case, says Henderson.
“All are key witnesses to the facts of this case.”
He says the case has thrown up many other anomalies, blatant acts of deception and cover-ups that lead directly to the disappearance of Lissette Brito.
“Without being party to the police investigation, I am certain they, too, must have had grave suspicions about his actions,” says Henderson.
Although never placed under arrest, Roehrs stayed on the island for over five months, presumably under some sort of an embargo.
Of paramount importance, says Henderson, is the urgent imperative to convene a coronial inquest as soon as possible. “The police on their own admission admit they have gotten nowhere.
This public inquest I speak of takes evidence from not only the police but anyone who can shed any light on the death. Ideally, it should have started when Roehrs was still here to take his sworn testimony.”
However, before the coroner here on Rarotonga can begin this hearing, it is a requirement that the police notify him of the event.
Nine months have passed and this notification has not been made. The Cook Islands Coroners Act clearly spells out the requirements for such a hearing. Due process has stalled and further witnesses may leave the country. And as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.
Henderson’s efforts to gain a deeper insight into the case have begun to pay off. He has made contact with Brito’s family as well as the Venezuelan Embassy in Canberra, Australia.
“I have tried unsuccessfully to encourage the Australian Federal Police with all their resources and expertise to reinvestigate the case, seeing the yacht was flying an Australian flag and its skipper is an Australian citizen,” says Henderson.
“This is despite their initial involvement with forensically examining some of Roehrs’ electronic devices, hand-delivered by the Cook Islands police.”
Henderson says he’s also aware Cook Islands authorities have also been in contact with Brito’s sister in Venezuela. He hopes authorities have been able to obtain from her the list of emails exchanged between the sisters whilst Lissette Brito was in the South Pacific with Roehrs.
He says he’d be happy to share what information he has with local authorities if they didn’t obtain the sisters’ email exchanges.
“I believe it is essential to give Lisette’s family some sense of justice, including the police returning all of Lissette’s personal possessions to her next of kin.
“And to demonstrate to them as well as all yachties and the outside world that a loss of a life at sea merits the full and undivided attention of the Cook Islands Justice system.”