Jailbreak in Tonga


Last Updated on November 18, 2019 by Amy

In July, a boat named Sea Oak was anchored in Neiafu Harbor. The couple onboard were prone to yelling (I heard this first hand from other boats in the harbor) and physically fighting. One morning, the woman, a Canadian, wouldn’t wake up – and her husband was arrested. 

Sea Oak was still in Neiafu when we were there – the man, Dean Jay Fletcher, an American, was in custody and his vessel was still anchored in Neiafu, with police tape wrapped around the rigging. 

We’ve heard various things about the prison system in Tonga. Fletcher was kept on Vava’u, but the rumor is he was the only prisoner and was often left alone with the key to his jail cell. There is no food system in the prison, and not having family nearby, he had to rely on fellow cruisers to bring him food. 

We woke up the meaning of September 29th to hear a lot of unusual chatter on the VHF. A majority of it was on Tongan, but we did get more information in English as the day went on. Fletcher, apparently with help, escaped his prison, reclaimed Sea Oak, and took off in the wee hours of the morning. 

By 8:30 the police were in a standoff with Fletcher out at sea. He had threatened the officers with flares, spear guns, and knives. At some point, the police decided to stop their pursuit. 

Fletcher was later apprehended in Pago Pago, American Samoa, while the Tongans try to work out the extradition situation with the American territory, but it’s unclear what will happen.  I imagine it’s fairly embarrassing to the Tongan police to have a man escape on a sailboat with no wind and probably very little fuel.  You have to question if they really wanted to pick him up?

Things are never dull on Starry Horizons but we don’t usually have rampant murderers running amuck!








  1. Hi Katie,

    I’m a journalist with the National Post in Canada. Not sure if you’re able to receive this message or not. Wondering if you or any members of your family would be open to talking to me about your sister, Patricia, and the decision by the U.S. not to extradite Dean Fletcher to Tonga.

    You can reach me at [email protected] or 604-742-8883.

    Douglas Quan
    National Post

  2. I have just stumbled on your sailing videos and blog. My wife and I are maritimers who hope to someday do what you are doing. We look forward to your blogs and posts.


  3. Wow, what a story! By the way, I will be in Suva next Monday and Tuesday Oct 24-25! Arriving on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. I expect you will have departed by then, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for Starry Horizons.

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