Thu, Feb 27, 2003 - Page 20 News List

America's Cup shrugs off warning

ON GUARD A terror alert and discovery of cyanide in one of three letters to the US, Australian and British embassies, have failed to disrupt the party in Auckland


Life slogged on as normal at the America's Cup following a public warning from anti-terror police after letters containing cyanide crystals and white powder were seized by postal workers.

Two policemen took time out from patrolling the stormy waterfront to play a match-racing video game at the Swiss compound, bartenders were pouring pints before noon and idled sailors raced remote-control, scale-model boats in front of the sheds that house the real sloops.

Poison letters

The threatening letters, addressed to the US Embassy and the British and Australian High Commissions in the capital of Wellington, referred to ``actions'' that could occur if Iraq was attacked. The letters mentioned the America's Cup races. Police said a small quantity of cyanide was in one of the letters, but wouldn't identify which diplomatic mission received that letter.

Enough cyanide to kill up to 20 people was sent in a threatening letter to the US Embassy shortly before the New Zealand golf open in January last year.

Police could not yet rule out the possibility that the latest letters were sent by the same person, as ``there are enough similarities to raise in our minds a link,'' said assistant commissioner Jon White, head of New Zealand's counterterror squad.

The powder in the three letters was tested for anthrax, but none was found, White said. A fourth letter containing white powder was sent to the New Zealand Herald newspaper in Auckland.

Yesterday was a scheduled day off at the America's Cup, which has been stalled for more than a week by uncooperative weather on the Hauraki Gulf.

Another rainy, gloomy day helped keep down the crowds at the Viaduct Basin, the inner harbor that contains the America's Cup syndicate row, a marina for luxury yachts, bars, restaurants and apartments.

Security at the America's Cup has been high since the nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 12 that killed 192 people, most of them foreign tourists.

``This is just another reminder to keep that level of alertness,'' said Tony Thomas, executive director of America's Cup this year.

He said a threatening letter was received in late December, warning people not to go to the Viaduct on New Year's. Nothing happened.

``We're being responsible about it and everybody is working with police, but we still want people to come down and wave the teams out each day,'' Thomas said.

The next scheduled racing day is today, but the forecast is for strong wind.

Russell Wilson, 42, of Canterbury, was having a beer at The Loaded Hog late yesterday morning. ``A quiet one before I go to the airport,'' he said.

Alinghi leads

With strong wind predicted for the gulf, neither the Swiss nor Team New Zealand went out on the water. Alinghi has a 3-0 lead in the best-of-nine series.

Some of the Swiss crew, including syndicate head and navigator Ernesto Bertarelli, raced their remote-controlled yachts, using a small inflatable cow for one of the buoys.

Alinghi spokeswoman Veronique Teurlay said security was normal at the Swiss base.

In December, Alinghi received letters threatening violence against the families of some New Zealand sailors working for the syndicate. The team's large New Zealand contingent includes skipper Russell Coutts and tactician Brad Butterworth.

Security guards have been seen standing next to Bertarelli, a biotech billionaire, as the Swiss boat is towed out to the race course.

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