The attack on Danish-born American sailor Bo Kjaer-Olsen last month in Panama — which led to his death — left many who’ve enjoyed trouble-free cruising in that Central American country wondering what might have motivated Kjaer-Olsen’s five assailants.
After researching the matter, reporter Don Winner of the widely read and well-respected online magazine Panama Guide is convinced that this was not a random attack. Rather, he believes that Kjaer-Olsen — who is a longtime treasure diver — and his family were singled out because a large quantity of 17th century gold was believed to have been aboard their 70-ft S&S schooner Antares.
The facts of the case are these: Antares was anchored at a place called Baja Pipon, along a sparsely populated stretch of river roughly eight miles south of the town of Pedregal. Kjaer-Olsen was shot in the leg and bled to death; his son Zach was also shot but survived, and is now hospitalized with a bullet still lodged near his spine. Zach’s Panamanian wife Sujey Rodriquez was badly beaten, but also survived.
The picture Winner paints of Kjaer-Olsen’s life is a colorful one: Born in Denmark, he immigrated with his family to South Africa, where he lived until the late ’70s. A passionate outdoorsman, he grew up assisting game wardens in the wild, then later got heavily into scuba diving, rock climbing and exploring uncharted caverns — supposedly motivated by stories of hidden treasure. After falling in love with an American model and moving to Hawaii with her, he developed a highly successful aquaculture business there.
At some point Kjaer-Olsen found Antares for sale in California, and adapted her as a liveaboard equipped for diving expeditions. According to Winner, Kjaer-Olsen had recently completed a salvage operation of a sunken treasure ship in Honduras. His take was reportedly about $200,000 in Spanish gold. Winner believes that it was Kjaer-Olsen’s habit of keeping his valuables aboard, rather than locked up in a bank, that led to the attack. Because plenty of illicit drug trafficking takes place in and around Panama, some have speculated that drugs may have played a role in the attack. But longtime friends of Kjaer-Olsen are adament that he would never be have been involved such dealings. Click here for Winner’s complete story on this sad event.