Cocaine filled vessel seized off NSW coast, one man arrested

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force, Australian Border Force, and the New South Wales Crime Commission.

A 27-year-old South Australian man is expected to appear in Sydney Central Local Court today following the seizure of approximately 200 kilograms of cocaine allegedly located on board a vessel off the New South Wales coast. 

Australian Federal Police obtained intelligence at the weekend in relation to a cargo vessel allegedly containing a large quantity of cocaine bound for Australia.

The AFP established Operation Poitiers with the New South Wales Police Force, Australian Border Force, New South Wales Crime Commission and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission on Saturday, 6 March 2021. 

Australian authorities tracked the cargo vessel, known as the MSC JOANNA as it made its way to Sydney. 

Through Maritime Border Command, ABF officers provided ongoing monitoring of the vessel, including planning the aerial and on-water response.

It will be alleged in court that police enquiries into the illicit drugs and the transnational criminal syndicate behind it linked a 27-year-old Elizabeth Parks man to the alleged drug importation. 

Aerial surveillance observed the Elizabeth Parks man launching a small vessel from Taren Point and meeting the MSC JOANNA off the coast of Sydney before sunrise yesterday (11 March 2021).  

Police allege 11 green lidded crates containing 199 blocks of cocaine were offloaded from the cargo vessel at sea and transported to the smaller vessel.  

The smaller vessel made its way back to shore before being intercepted by New South Wales Police Force officers.

The Elizabeth Parks man was arrested at sea and conveyed to Balmain, Sydney by police vessel. 

He was subsequently charged with:

  • Import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.1 (1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Possess a commercial quantity of an unlawfully imported border controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.5 of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Deal in money or other property which is the proceeds or instrument of crime, greater than AUD100,000, contrary to section 400.4 of the Criminal Code (Cth).

The smaller vessel was also transported to Balmain where the 11 crates containing approximately 200 kilograms of cocaine were offloaded. 

The seized cocaine has an estimated street value of $90 million.

Forensic specialists are currently examining the drugs seized and will be conducting further testing to determine the exact weight and purity of the drugs.

Following the arrest, police followed the MSC JOANNA until it docked at Port Botany. Police executed a search warrant on the vessel, with the assistance of ABF officers and the Detector Dog Unit.

Police, with the assistance of ABF officers, also seized approximately $500,000 in cash from a storage unit in Caringbah, NSW allegedly linked to the Elizabeth Parks man. 

Investigations are continuing into the man’s alleged associates and the transnational criminal syndicate allegedly behind the drug importation. 

AFP Commander Kirsty Schofield said the threat from transnational organised crime groups is real and affects the security of Australia and Australians.

“Transnational organised crime groups prey on Australia’s lucrative drug market where Australians are among the highest per capita users of illicit drugs in the world, particularly in cocaine and methamphetamine,” Cmdr. Schofield said.

“As a nation, we need to look past that neatly packaged white powder image of cocaine and truly think about the harm this dangerous drug has on our families and communities.”

“Our investigators are working day in and day out to ensure we intercept these harmful drugs before they cause devastation to the lives of vulnerable Australians.”

NSW Police State Crime Command Director Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said this is another example of how Australian law enforcement agencies work together to address evolving criminal enterprises.

“NSW Police are proud to work with our law enforcement partners both here and abroad to shut down and suppress organised crime and place those responsible before the courts,” Det Ch Supt Bennett said.

We are committed to protecting our citizens from the scourge of criminal networks and will use all the powers given to us to severely impact the negative affects their illicit activities have in our community.

“I would particularly like to commend the courage and precision of our Marine Area Command whose tactical expertise was crucial in yesterday’s operation.”

ABF Enforcement Operations East Acting Commander Garry Low said criminals should be aware the ABF has eyes on our oceans, not just on our ports, airports and mail centres.

“This arrest and seizure shows how quickly crucial information can be actioned into a successful operation with alleged offenders arrested and drugs prevented from making it to Australian shores,” A/g Cmdr. Low said.

“My message to criminal syndicates is not only will we find your drug concealments when they reach our sea ports and airports, but we’re also watching your movements before you reach Australia.”

ACIC Executive Director Intelligence Operations Matt Rippon said the ACIC’s latest National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report showed an estimated 5,675 kilograms of cocaine was consumed in the 2019–20 reporting period.

“There is an insatiable appetite for illicit drugs in Australia.

“This is causing ongoing social harm in the community and diverting astronomical amounts of money into the criminal economy,” he said.

Members of the community with information relating to drug imports can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 and can report it online through Crime Stoppers.

Note to media:

 Vision of the joint investigation is available via Hightail

Media are encouraged to include help-seeking information in stories about illicit drugs to minimise any negative impact on people in the community. The following services provide people with access to support and information.

  • For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.
  • Access free 24/7 drug and alcohol counselling online.
  • For information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment or support, go to the Turning Point website.

Media Enquiries

AFP National Media: (02) 5126 9297

NSWPF Media: (02) 8263 6100

ABF Media: (02) 6264 2244