A Nova Scotia fisherman accused of drug smuggling in Spain says he had no idea 1,000 kilograms of cocaine were on board the ship he was working on, a Spanish court heard Tuesday.

Philip Halliday, 55, was arrested in 2009 after Spanish police intercepted a former Canadian Coast Guard ship carrying cocaine worth $600 million. The drugs were concealed under a bolted trap door. Since the bust, 14 people from Britain and Colombia have been jailed for importing drugs to Spain.

Continuing Coverage

CBC News has the only Nova Scotia journalist in Spain for the trial.

Listen to CBC Radio One and watch CBC NS at 6 p.m. for Jennifer Henderson's reports.

 

Halliday spoke to prosecutors and judges for 15 minutes Tuesday. Dressed in a two-piece grey suit, the fisherman said he had volunteered to take the ship from Shelburne, N.S., to Central America because he missed the sea after retiring.

"He said he agreed to help move it to Spain for $200 a day," said the CBC's Jennifer Henderson, who is in Madrid to cover the trial. "He said the boss who hired him ordered Halliday, the captain and engineer to take a two-day vacation just prior to the ship's departure from Trinidad."

The prosecutor asked if he made phone calls to Spain during the trip. He said he had only called his wife in Nova Scotia.

The trial got off to a late start Tuesday, as one of the nine lawyers couldn't find the courthouse on the edge of Madrid.

Halliday is one of ten people on trial. Seven were crew on the Destiny Empress and three were arrested in Spain, including a Colombian man Spanish police say is the ringleader of an international drug smuggling operation.

London drug raid led to N.S. ship

The trial began with testimony from the chief of Spanish police.

Police became suspicious about the boat after a cocaine bust in London, U.K. Police say they found a receipt in that raid connected to a refit of the Destiny Empress.

Halliday appeared to be in good health and waved to his wife and son, who are attending the trial.

ns-mi-halliday-couple

Philip and his wife Sheree Halliday have been apart since Philip set out on the Destiny Empress. (submitted)

"He and the other crew members, including four Romanians and an American, all claim they had no idea there was $600 million worth of cocaine hidden beneath a trap door on their ship," Jennifer Henderson reported.

The ship is a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans craft that was decommissioned in 2001, sold in 2005 and then renamed the Destiny Empress. The 58-metre, steel-hulled boat was based in Nova Scotia until 2008, when it moved to the Caribbean.

Halliday faces 12 years if convicted

Halliday, who had given up fishing because of a heart condition, met the owner in Nova Scotia and agreed to work the voyage.

Unlike a trial in Canada, Halliday and the other crew members won't get a chance to tell their stories.

A panel of judges will instead question them to determine the facts. If convicted, Halliday could spend the next 12 years behind bars.