The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is warning criminals that their attempts to hide illicit drugs in the hull of cargo ships continues to be disrupted by law enforcement after another import was seized by authorities in Melbourne.
Packages of cocaine concealed inside the sea chest of a cargo ship was seized after the vessel docked in Melbourne, the second attempted import of its kind in two months.
Australian Border Force (ABF) used an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) at Melbourne’s Appleton Dock to search a vessel, when it arrived from South America to the Port of Melbourne on October 7, 2023.
Specialist divers from the Victoria Police Search and Rescue Squad retrieved four packages of cocaine wrapped in plastic from inside the sea chest. The packages contained about 154kg of cocaine, equivalent to about 77,0000 street deals worth an estimated A$61 million.
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AFP officers seized the illicit drugs, along with a suspected tracking device – and began an investigation to identify the source of the cocaine and its intended destination.
There have been a number of attempts to conceal drugs in the hull of cargo ships in recent months, including the seizure of about 200kg of cocaine from the sea chest of another vessel docked in the Port of Melbourne in early August, 2023.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec said the AFP and its law enforcement partners were closely tracking the rising trend of transnational serious organised crime groups attempting to smuggle illicit drugs into Australia by hiding them underneath the waterline of cargo ships.
“My message to organised crime is that your modus operandi is busted. We know when illicit drugs are coming in and where they are stored,” Sirec said. “In the past two years alone, a number of high-profile alleged offenders have been deported or extradited to Australia to face serious illicit drug trafficking charges. Some of these offenders are facing sentences of life imprisonment.
“We also want to warn the divers, who are hired by criminal syndicates, to retrieve illicit drugs in the hulls of ships. They are also placing themselves in serious danger because retrieval often involves diving through dark, busy shipping channels with limited safety equipment. It’s just not worth risking your life or your future for.”
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug which can cause, among other conditions, psychosis, stroke, heart disease, kidney failure along with significant social and financial problems.
The AFP has more than 200 personnel located in 33 countries as part of its international network. AFP members posted offshore work in partnership with foreign law enforcement agencies to detect, deter, prevent and disrupt crime and harm at its source.