THE MASTER and chief engineer of a bulk carrier have been charged for their alleged roles in the importation of almost 850 kilograms of cocaine into Western Australia.

Police will allege the men, aged 43 and 39, both from Montenegro, knew the cocaine was hidden on the ship and planned to drop it overboard off Fremantle to be collected by another group.

Police believe the master instructed other crew members to alter the vessel’s course as it neared Fremantle Port to meet with another vessel.

Both men were due to face Perth Magistrates Court on Friday 16 June, where police would allege the men planned to meet with a cabin cruiser named No Fixed Address. Police believe the planned exchange failed.

The men allegedly then attempted to conceal the drugs by filling the ballast tank that the drugs were hidden in with water, instructing crewmembers to backdate logs and provide false information to shipping agents.

The men have each been charged with one count of importing a commercial quantity of cocaine into Australia. They face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted.

The search of the vessel was ongoing on Friday evening (16 June) and a replacement master and chief engineer were brought on board.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Pryce Scanlan said the men allegedly went to great lengths to hide their illegal activities from law enforcement and other authorities.

“Our message to organised crime groups is that the AFP will be unyielding in protecting Australians from the harm caused by these illicit drugs and the associated criminal behaviour,” Assistant Commissioner Scanlan said.

Ranjeev Maharaj, ABF Commander Operations West, said cocaine shipments are being seized at Australia’s border at record levels.

“The Australian border is a strategic national asset and is fundamental to our national security, economy prosperity and way of life,” Commander Maharaj said.

“That is why the ABF works so closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure that the border remains a hostile environment for criminals attempting to import illicit drugs.

“We will continue to deter, detect and disrupt those who seek to import harmful drugs into Australia.”

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) Executive Director Intelligence Operations Jennifer Hurst believed multi-agency collaboration was crucial to combatting the harm of illicit drugs in Australia.

“ACIC intelligence shows cocaine poses a high risk to the Australian community, which is causing ongoing harm and diverting astronomical amounts of money into the criminal economy,” Ms Hurst said.

“Collaborative efforts such as this are essential to disrupting transnational crime syndicates and dismantling the illicit drug market.”

The cocaine haul was found in May this year after a joint agency investigation. Police arrested three men, aged 21, 25 and 29, who had been travelling on the cabin cruiser and charged them for their alleged involvement in the attempted import.