An Egyptian man is suing the owner of a north Queensland fishing charter, claiming he was falsely imprisoned on the 65-foot boat as part of a bizarre child recovery operation that reunited his daughter with her Australian mother.
Mazen Hassan Baioumy had been shuttling between Australia and Egypt — where his then four- year-old daughter was living with his family — when he was recruited to work on the vessel and, according to his lawsuit, held against his will for 11 days in August 2013.
The “job” had been part of a “ruse” involving child recovery agent Col Chapman, and was executed after Mr Baioumy had blocked his little girl from leaving Egypt, where she had been brought for a visit earlier that year by his estranged wife, who lived in Melbourne.
After Mr Baioumy accepted the job on the boat, his wife, Amaal Finn, and Mr Chapman allegedly snatched the child from his family in Egypt while her father was “incommunicado on the high seas”.
It was only then that the intricate operation, being played out on opposite sides of the world, hit a snag in Egypt.
Ms Finn discovered her husband — whom she met and married in Melbourne — had a travel restriction preventing their daughter from leaving the country without his permission.
It took another two years, and a legal fight in Egypt, for her to have the ban overturned and be able to bring her daughter to Australia.
Now Mr Baioumy — who is believed to be residing in Melbourne — is suing for compensation from Sel Wendt, the owner of the Cooktown-moored marlin charter boat.
In documents obtained by The Australian, Mr Baioumy is claiming he was falsely imprisoned without his mobile phone or adequate food and water and did not receive medical assistance during his time on the boat.
Mr Baioumy does not dispute he got on the boat voluntarily. He declined yesterday to comment.
His statement of claim — which was last week ordered to be refiled — alleged he was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, aggravation of a pre-existing shoulder injury and muscle tearing.
Lawyers for Mr Wendt unsuccessfully sought to have the case dismissed, with the District Court in Cairns on Friday allowing Mr Baioumy to file a new statement of claim next month after finding the original 2014 filing was not correctly prepared.
Mr Wendt said yesterday that Mr Chapman had hired the vessel and he had nothing to do with “hiring” Mr Baioumy.
Mr Chapman, who is not a party to the suit, confirmed his colleagues had organised the chartering of the boat as part of the recovery operation.
Emails allegedly between Mr Chapman and Mr Wendt have been filed in court about the “ruse”, in which the child recovery agent indicates he has hired “Mazen” to translate for “wealthy Egyptian businessmen” who were purportedly going to arrive on the boat while it was at sea.
“Mazen is coming aboard as a security/interpreter and cultural guide. Our clients do no (sic) speak English. Or so he thinks,” Mr Chapman wrote on August 14, 2013, according to one email filed in court.
“All mobile phones … will be turned off and handed to you upon boarding and not returned until the charter is over.
“Mazen is already aware of this requirement and has agreed. This way we hope to ensure he is incommunicado.”
On August 20, 2013, on Mr Baioumy’s fifth day at sea, another message purportedly sent by Mr Chapman asked the boat to stay out at sea.
“We need him to sty (sic) out at sea for at least 4 extra days,” the alleged email said. “Once this is confirmed we will forward extra funds.”
On Friday, District Court judge Dean Morzone said the alleged emails could be evidence of Mr Baioumy being detained.
“If accepted, this evidence tends to show that the defendant was well aware of his role and reward to detain the plaintiff on the vessel pending completion of the recovery operation in Egypt,” Judge Morzone said.
He also said the allegations of false imprisonment were disputed by Mr Wendt.
“The defendant (Mr Wendt) maintains that he did not falsely imprison the plaintiff; he did not prevent him from leaving.
“The plaintiff did not suffer any physical ailments, the defendant did not lock him in a cabin, and he did not fail to provide him with food and water, or assault him.”
Mr Chapman yesterday denied Mr Baioumy had been falsely imprisoned, and confirmed he and his colleagues had arranged the “job” on the boat as part of the child recovery operation.
“He’s saying he was deprived of his liberty,” Mr Chapman said. “He was snorkelling, fishing, playing the guitar.
“He wasn’t deprived of any liberty.”
Photos of Mr Baioumy on board the boat show him smiling while holding fish and crabs.
It’s understood he will argue that the photos were taken shortly after the voyage began, and that he had unsuccessfully sought to get off the boat later in the trip when he realised the businessmen would not be joining them.
Mr Baioumy had earlier signalled that he would also sue Mr Chapman, but “that part of the application has not been pursued”, Judge Morzone said.
Mr Chapman is a rival to child recovery agent Adam Whittington, who was last year jailed in Lebanon over the botched 60 Minutes child snatch attempt to reunite Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner with her children.