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A SYDNEY man has been charged in connection to a seizure in Belgium of cocaine with a gross weight of 216 kilos, estimated to be worth more than $64 million as a result of Operation Ironside.

Australian Federal Police will allege a 41-year-old Sydney man intended to import the illicit drugs into New South Wales from Brazil by attaching the drugs to the bottom of a cargo ship.

Police will further allege the man was making arrangements for a team of divers to retrieve the drugs from the bottom of the ship when it reached port in Australia.

The illicit cargo was intercepted on 21 June 2021, when a fruit juice tanker from Brazil, destined for Australia, arrived into Ghent, Belgium.

The Australian Border Force provided assistance in identifying and locating the vessel, allowing it to be intercepted.

Acting on intelligence provided by the AFP, Belgian Federal Judicial Police, Belgian Maritime and River Police, Belgian Customs and Excise Investigations Branch and Dutch Customs Divers Team searched the vessel.

An underwater search was conducted by a dive team, which included a search of the ship’s sea chest. A sea chest is an opening in the ship’s hull, below the water line, through which seawater is pumped to fill ballast tanks or to cool the engine room.

Authorities located three bags packed with cocaine inside the sea chest, with an alleged gross weight of 216 kilos.

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On 25 June 2021, AFP officers executed a search warrant at a residence in Bondi, NSW, where they arrested the 41-year-old man.

A second man, a 40-year-old Sydney man, currently in custody awaiting trial on unrelated charges will face additional charges in connection with the conspiracy to import this cocaine destined for Australia.

ABF Superintendent Alex O’Brien said this operation highlights how the ABF’s expertise in the maritime environment can contribute to such a significant result.

“Our highly skilled ABF officers were able to identify the vessel, its projected movements and the probable location of the drug concealment based on scant information,” Superintendent O’Brien said.

“This operation shows the successful outcomes that can be achieved when domestic and international law enforcement agencies work together.”

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