Police have seized about one tonne of illicit drugs from a small island off the Geraldton coast after receiving information from the public about an apparently stricken yacht and the unusual movements of its crew.
About 4pm on Monday (2 September), community members reported that the 15m yacht named “Zero” had drifted on to reef near Stick Island, which is located in the Abrolhos Islands group about 60km west of Geraldton.
The report sparked a sea search and an investigation which resulted in the arrest of two men on Burton Island on Tuesday afternoon (3 September). About 40 bags containing up to one tonne of suspected illicit drugs was located, with preliminary tests indicating the haul includes cocaine and ecstasy.
“The fishing community of Geraldton played a significant role in this detection and seizure and maintained regular contact with police as this matter unfolded,” WA Police Force Commissioner Chris Dawson said.
“These people have helped protect Western Australia’s borders on this occasion and we are grateful for their efforts.”
Geraldton Police, local volunteer marine search and rescue, and Fisheries Officers from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development also played a key role in the response to this incident which unfolded in an isolated location and challenging environment.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Shipton, involves WA Police Force, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, Home Affairs, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC.
“We have also engaged with our international law enforcement partners, including the National Crime Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as both accused men are foreign nationals and the movements of the yacht are of interest to us,” Mr Dawson said.
A 51-year-old French national and a 34-year-old British national have been charged with Importation of a Commercial Quantity of Border Controlled Drugs, Section 301.1 Crimes Act. They appeared in the Geraldton Magistrate’s Court today (5 September) and remanded in custody to appear again at a later date (20 September).
AFP State Manager for Western Australia, Commander Greg Harrigan, said the team effort had spared the Australian community the damaging effects of these illicit drugs.
“This seizure shows the power of the community and police agencies – both at home and overseas – working together to stop illicit drugs from reaching our shores,” Commander Harrigan said.
“This is an attack on our society that is destroying individuals, families and whole communities.
“If you buy or use illicit drugs, know that you are supporting organised crime groups that profit from human suffering – it is not worth risking your own life with these dangerous drugs.
For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services, call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.”
The ABF’s Regional Commander for Western Australia, Rod O’Donnell, said the detection highlighted the valuable role the community plays in partnering with law enforcement agencies in protecting the border.
“It also demonstrates the ability of Australia’s State and Federal law enforcement agencies to collaborate and respond quickly and effectively to suspicious incidents, even in remote locations.
“Illicit drugs perpetuate misery across the breadth of the Australian community, and the more we can collectively do to reduce supply the better off our nation will be.”
Comment to be attributed to Police Minister Michelle Roberts:
“Our police have done another outstanding job stopping illicit drugs from reaching our streets.
Preventing this massive haul of drugs entering our state is a huge win for the Western Australia Police Force and for everyone in WA.
“Drugs like these tear families apart and are a key driver of shocking and violent crimes.”