Philip Halliday was asleep when the captain woke him to ask who was shooting at them.
Philip didn’t know. Someone was shooting out the windows of the bridge. Someone was yelling for them to stop the ship.
“I had no clue who it was,” says Philip. “I thought it was pirates. I asked the captain if they had pirates here.”
It was the morning of Dec. 20 2009.
Philip was on the Destiny Empress about 370 km off the Spanish coast. He thought they had another few days left in the trip.
He also thought crew of seven was transporting an empty ship from Trinidad to buyers in Spain.
The gunshots and the commands to stop to continued. So they stopped the ship and Philip was hiding on his hands and knees when someone came up behind him, tied his hands behind his back and told him not to look at them.
“All I was thinking was that these were pirates and we had nothing on this ship,” says Philip. “I was sure we were going to get shot.”
They made him walk, head down to his room on the ship which held an old large safe.
They asked for the key and Philip told them he had never seen it open. They slapped him and then asked him “What are we here for?”
“I guessed you want money,” he told them. “You want in the safe, it must be money.”
They slapped him again and walked out.
It was only then as they walked away he noticed the word ‘Policia’ and their jackets.
“I thought good, I won’t get shot,” he says.
The Spanish police went through the whole ship and found nothing. It took them another two days to find the 1200 kg of cocaine someone had hidden on board.
Philip himself says he didn’t learn about the drugs until the captain visited him in the hospital a couple weeks later.
Philip says he had no idea the drugs were there.
Asked how he could miss that much cocaine, he responds simply “It’s a big ship. 65 metre long.”
Still the Spanish authorities charged Philip and the rest of the crew with drug trafficking.
Philip waited three years for a trial.
In the end the judges found him guilty and released him immediately on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Two others were found guilty with him and also released. Three others had been released in December, including American dive instructor Reginald Stuart II, but they were not given their passports. Philip was the first of the crew to leave Spain.
The captain, Kevin Fletcher was sentenced to nine years.
Another 15 people were arrested throughout Europe in connection to the case; 13 of them pled guilty, one was convicted and one (Michael McDermott) was acquitted. The 14 received a total of 79 years.
Halliday is back in Canada and has already started the process of appealing the guilty verdict.
“Because I’m innocent,” he says.
His wife Sheree says they are appealing for the sake of their sons and any future grandchildren.
“It didn’t matter so much to us,” says Sheree. “What matters is he’s home. But I’d like it for our sons and for our grandchildren to know his name was cleared.”