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Rebreather smuggling brings five-year sentence

57-month prison sentence for Peter Sotis
Peter Sotis

Peter Sotis, the US rebreather instructor who was buddying Sharkwater film-maker Rob Stewart when he died on a deep dive in 2017, has been sentenced to almost five years’ imprisonment for conspiring and illegally attempting to export unlicensed military-grade rebreathers to Libya.

Florida scuba divers Sotis, 57, and Emilie Voissem, 45, were convicted last October following a week-long jury trial in Miami, as reported on Divernet. Now Sotis has received a 57-month prison term.

Voissem, who was found not guilty of making false statements, was sentenced to five months in prison and another five months confined to her home.

The pair’s attempt to smuggle closed-circuit rebreathers to Libya occurred in August 2016, according to the US Attorney’s Office for South Florida. Because rebreathers can be used for both civilian recreational and military purposes, they are included on the USA’s Commerce Control List of export items that require a licence from the department of commerce (DOC) before they can be sent to nations that raise security concerns, such as Libya.

Sotis was the 80% owner and Voissem office manager of diving equipment and training company Add Helium in Fort Lauderdale. At their trial they were said to have defied a DOC special agent’s instruction not to export the rebreathers pending a licensing decision, and to have lied to the shipping company in an attempt to mislead it.

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Sotis was also said to have threatened a government witness not to co-operate with the federal investigation, which was carried out by the DOC and Homeland Security Investigations assisted by the FBI and US Customs & Border Protection. 

In March 2017, Divernet reported that Rob Stewart’s parents were bringing a lawsuit against Sotis, his wife Claudia, Add Helium, and others in connection with their son’s death in January of that year.

According to the suit Sotis and Add Helium, which had taught Stewart to use a rebreather, had been “in charge of the dive and sold the rebreather equipment used by the divers”. Stewart died following the pair’s third 70m dive of the day to retrieve an anchor on the Queen of Nassau wreck off the Florida Keys.

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