An AFP-led investigation targeting transnational organised crime has seized 416kg of cocaine off Yorke Peninsula, the biggest haul of illicit drugs ever confiscated in South Australia, worth an estimated street value of more than $166 million dollars.
Four Filipino foreign nationals, who were crew members of an international bulk shipping carrier, are due to appear in an Adelaide court tomorrow on charges relating to the illicit drug importation.
The four men, aged between 29 and 44, have been charged with importation of a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
If convicted, the accused face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The multi-jurisdictional operation, involving the AFP, Australian Border Force (ABF), South Australia Police (SAPOL), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Department of Home Affairs, is another blow against organised crime in South Australia. Investigations continue, with further arrests expected.
Police will allege crew members offloaded the shipment of drugs overboard once in South Australian waters in mid March, 2022.
ABF conducted a search and located the consignment on 21 March, 2022 off the coast of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.
This seizure led to a joint agency investigation - codenamed Operation Lithgow.
AFP investigators allege there was about 416 kilograms of cocaine in the consignment. Further testing will be done to determine the exact weight and purity of the drugs.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey said it was likely the illicit drugs would have been distributed across Australia by criminals associated with serious organised crime.
“While the alleged cocaine importation is the largest ever detected by law enforcement in South Australia, it is most certain the drugs would have been trafficked to other Australian states,’’ Assistant Commissioner Harvey said.
“We are sending a strong and clear message today to organised crime. We will not stop. We are coming after you.
“The AFP relentlessly disrupts and takes action against drug traffickers because illicit drugs make our roads and communities less safe. We will stay one step ahead.
“There is a perception by some in the community that cocaine is a safe drug. Let me be clear – it is not – and just as importantly, the transnational serious organised criminals who target Australia are also undermining our national security, economy and social security system.
“We also know drug trafficking can lead to drug wars in our streets, and often law-abiding citizens can be the collateral damage to that violence.
“Illicit drug trafficking can also bankroll other abhorrent crimes, such as human trafficking and sexual servitude.”
Assistant Commissioner Harvey thanked state and Commonwealth law enforcement partners for their invaluable assistance.
Australian Border Force Acting Chief Superintendent Alex Kelsall said: “On 17 March, Australian Border Force officers searched a bulk carrier merchant vessel in Port Adelaide.
“During the search, ABF officers located evidence that led them to believe the vessel had potentially been involved in the drop off of a significant quantity of drugs at sea.
“In response, supported by partner agencies, ABF officers commenced operational activity along the South Australian coastline, which included extensive land, marine and air patrols.
“After working tirelessly for four days ABF officers found about 400kg of cocaine a substantial distance off the coast and towed the drugs to shore.
“We’re proud to say this represents the largest border controlled drug detection in South Australia’s history. We are determined to prevent illegal drugs from entering Australia and causing harm to the community.
“This was an exceptionally well executed operation by the ABF to effectively find a needle in a haystack.
“The operation was a testament to the skill, professionalism and dedication of the ABF officers involved, and detections such as this send a strong message to those seeking to import illegal drugs.”
Robert Jackson, Executive Director Intelligence Operations at the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission said: “We congratulate our partners on this successful operation.”
“The ACIC’s unique capabilities enable us to identify insights that assist our partners in disrupting these transnational serious and organised criminals, and directly contribute to our mission of making Australia a hostile place for criminal exploitation.”