Alleged drug smuggling syndicate dismantled after cocaine-filled yacht intercepted in multi-agency investigation

Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force

Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force

Police have seized 700kg of cocaine and arrested three men as part of a multi-agency investigation into international drug trafficking by sea.

In August, investigators from the NSW Police Force (NSWPF) State Crime Command’s Organised Crime Squad, Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) commenced a joint investigation into the importation of cocaine by private vessels.

As a result of inquiries, investigators identified a vessel of interest travelling from the South Pacific bound for NSW, which was monitored through Australian waters.

The investigation has also been assisted by the Australian Border Force, and the National Gendarmerie, Tahiti; as well as NSWPF Marine Area Command and PolAir, and specialist technical and surveillance officers from each agency.

Following extensive investigations, a coordinated joint resolution operation was commenced in the Lake Macquarie area about 3pm yesterday (Wednesday 15 November 2017).

During the operation, a 68-year-old man was arrested on board the vessel at Toronto, a 47-year-old man was arrested at a hotel at Warners Bay, and a 63-year-old man was arrested at a home at Islington.

In addition, multiple search warrants were executed across the Lake Macquarie area with the assistance of Strike Force Raptor, and further warrants were executed by AFP in Western Australia and Thailand.

On board the vessel, investigators located a large commercial quantity of cocaine concealed within the hull.

Specialist forensic officers are continuing to deconstruct the boat and examine the contents, but it is believed to contain 700kg of cocaine, which has an estimated potential street value of $245 million.

Further forensic testing will be conducted to determine the exact weight and purity.

The three men were charged with import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs and refused bail to appear at Newcastle Local Court today (Thursday 16 November 2017), where they were formally bail refused to appear at the same court on Tuesday 30 January 2018.

The maximum penalty for import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs is life imprisonment.

Joint investigations are continuing, and further arrests are expected.

NSWPF State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Mal Lanyon, said the results of recent joint agency investigations are indicative of the seriousness of NSW’s thirst for illicit drugs, particularly cocaine.

“As we recently highlighted, the Organised Crime Squad – with the assistance of our law enforcement partners both here and abroad – has seized tonnes of prohibited drugs and precursors destined for the streets of NSW,” Assistant Commissioner Lanyon said.

“With every seizure we make, a syndicate is taken down, but the demand remains high, and another organised criminal syndicate is willing to flip the coin and risk it all to try and exploit that demand for profit.

“NSW Police Force will continue making arrests and seizing drugs - within NSW and offshore – with our partners, including AFP, ACIC, and ABF, but until there’s a reduction in demand, we cannot reduce the harm of organised criminal activity on the community,” Assistant Commissioner Lanyon said.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan, National Manager Organised Crime and Cyber, said the drug-filled vessel had passed through Tahiti before making its way to the East Coast of Australia.

“It is no surprise that criminal syndicates undertake sophisticated attempts that go to great lengths – even crossing oceans in relatively small craft – to import narcotics,” Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to flood our streets with dangerous narcotics to make a profit, with police, health professionals and the community picking up the bill for all the peripheral damage they will cause.”

ABF Acting Assistant Commissioner Strategic Border Command, James Watson, said this seizure is a huge win not only for our law enforcement partners, but for the Australian community.

“It is no secret that cocaine is an extremely harmful and addictive drug that can rip apart and destroy Australian families,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Watson said.

“No matter how you criminal syndicates attempt to try to circumvent the border – the ABF are there and ready to stop them. We will continue to work with our partners to smash this criminal activity – every seizure no matter how big or small can save lives and put a dent into organised crime.”

Police are urging anyone with information in relation to organised criminal activity in their community to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page: Information you provide will be treated in the strictest of confidence. We remind people they should not report crime information via our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Media enquiries

NSW Police Force: (02) 8835 8339

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