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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 23:13 GMT
Blake murder suspect's defence
Seamaster and Brazilian police boats
Police boats approach Sir Peter Blake's yacht
Seven men arrested in Brazil in connection with the murder of New Zealand yachtsman Sir Peter Blake have confessed to stealing items from his boat, but claimed the killing was an act of self-defence.

Brazilian police say one suspect admitted shooting Sir Peter with a rifle after the yachtsman opened fire, injuring one man in the hand, in the aftermath of the robbery.

After an anonymous tip-off, two groups of suspects were arrested in the small towns of Macapa and Santana, near the mouth of the Amazon where Sir Peter's boat was moored.

Map of Brazilian Amazon
Police are still searching for an eighth suspect, who local media said piloted the bandits to his vessel.

Sir Peter, considered one of the best yachtsmen in the world, was best known for leading Team New Zealand to victory in 1995 and 2000 in the America's Cup, yachting's most prestigious team competition.

His ship, Seamaster, was awaiting customs clearance off Macapa when the gang mounted an opportunistic raid on the vessel.

Brazilian police say the pirates apparently thought the boat was carrying wealthy tourists, and had no idea it belonged to a famous person undertaking environmental research.

They said they didn't know anyone famous was aboard and they weren't expecting any resistance

Jose Araujo, Brazilian police
According to reports, Sir Peter tried to fight the gang off, but died after being shot twice in the back. Two other crew members were injured, before the pirates fled with a spare outboard engine and a number of watches.

The BBC's Jan Rocha in Brazil says Sir Peter's death comes as a great embarrassment to the government, as New Zealand has just opened an embassy in Brazil.

The Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso had ordered an all-out effort to find the killers.

The tragedy has also underlined the dangers visitors face in the region. Local police say piracy is rife, but they do not have sufficient resources to tackle the problem.

Yachting triumphs

Born in Auckland, New Zealand on 1 October 1948, Sir Peter was knighted in 1995 by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to yachting.

After a record-breaking individual career, in 1995 he successfully led a New Zealand team to challenge for the America's Cup.

Sir Peter Blake's Seamaster
Seamaster moored at the mouth of the Amazon

Apart from the America's Cup victories, Sir Peter twice won the arduous Sydney-to-Hobart race, and the Whitbread round-the-world race in 1990.

In July this year he was named as special envoy for the United Nations Environment Programme.

He was travelling in the Amazon as part of a five-year round-the-world expedition to study the effects of global warming and pollution.

The BBC's Jeremy Frankel
"He was one of the world's most accomplished sailors"
Yachtsman Sir Peter Blake on sailing
"Once you are on your own, it is a nice feeling"
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