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DECEMBER 7, 2001

Brazil's credibility hit by killing of yachtsman

THE image of Brazil has been badly tarnished by the murder of America's Cup yachtsman Peter Blake, during an environmental expedition up the Amazon River. The boat which Blake was sailing was attacked by pirates near the town of Macapa and Blake was shot twice. Two other members of the crew were wounded. The pirates escaped with cameras and watches. The country tried to reduce the damage to its image by saying that President Fernando Henrique Cardoso had given orders that the criminals would be hunted down and captured.

Blake was one of New Zealand's biggest sporting heroes, having won the America's Cup for Team New Zealand in 1995 and defended the Cup in 1999. He was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth for his exploits.

Although Sao Paulo has fewer pirates than the Amazon, there have long been fears that someone will get seriously hurt or worse when the Formula 1 circus visits Brazil. This year there were a number of incidents when the Grand Prix circus visited Interlagos. There were a series of robberies from the Formula 1 garages, including seven computers from Jaguar Racing and wheel rims from Minardi. In addition Minardi team manager Tony Lees was robbed at gunpoint after visiting a bank in downtown Sao Paulo. There were several other reports of attempted robberies on F1 personnel.