AUTHORITIES are calling for public assistance after seizing more than 200 kilograms of cocaine from the hull of a ship in the port of Melbourne.
The cargo vessel docked in Melbourne’s Maribyrnong terminal on 9 August after travelling from Argentina via New Zealand.
Australian Border Force officers searched the vessel using an underwater remotely operated vehicle and identified a suspicious hull attachment in the sea chest of the ship.
Specialist divers from the Victoria Police Search and Rescue Squad found packages of cocaine inside the sea chest.
The Australian Federal Police seized the drugs – about 200 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated “street value” of $80 million – and launched an investigation to identify the source of the shipment and its intended destination.
The ship and crew were permitted to continue the journey to other Australian ports after the search. It travelled from Melbourne to the port of Fremantle and then to the port of Adelaide.
AFP Commander Richard Chin urged anyone with information relating to the seizure, or suspicious activity at ports in Victoria, WA and South Australia, to come forward.
“It could be something small from an unusual boat purchase paid in cash, through to suspicious activity at one of our ports,” Commander Chin said.
“Every piece of information reported to law enforcement can help put together the picture to help us find those responsible.”
Commander Chin said law enforcement has noticed attachments under the waterline of cargo ships regularly over the past two decades.
He said retrieval of the attachment containers used to conceal the drugs can result in death or serious injury to drug smugglers.
“This concealment method is not new,” Commander Chin said.
“The focus of our ongoing investigation remains on identifying and locating the transnational serious organised crime groups responsible for this attempted import, and the people working for them in Australia to receive and distribute these drugs.”
ABF Commander Clinton Sims, maritime and enforcement south, said Australia was being targeted by organised crime groups moving illegal drugs through the border using parasitic hull attachments on commercial ships.
“In response, the ABF is utilising submersible ROVs to enhance our ability to conduct mass screening of shipping vessel hulls and void spaces to detect below-the-waterline concealments of illegal drugs.
“This was an outstanding detection by ABF officers. Despite international law enforcement agency operations, organised crime groups continue to import illegal drugs on board commercial vessels destined for Australia.
“Our border is one of our most critical national assets and criminals should know that our efforts will continue to detect, disrupt and dismantle transnational organised crime groups who seek to test the integrity of Australia’s border.”
Victoria Police Search and Rescue Inspector James Dalton highlighted the skills of specialist divers and how serious police are in detecting and deterring criminal activity.
“Our message is clear: if you are attempting to import drugs or illegal goods via ships into Victoria, we will detect them and ensure the people involved are held to account.”
The AFP is urging witnesses or anyone with information relating to suspicious activity around the Maribyrnong terminal in Melbourne on or around 9 August – or in the port of Fremantle or Port Adelaide in the week that followed – to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
They said members of the public can report information anonymously to Crime Stoppers via 1800 333 000 and online at crimestoppers.com.au.