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AUSTRALIAN Federal Police have charged the 51-year-old master of an international bulk carrier for his alleged role in the plot to import 320 kilograms of cocaine into Australia via regional Western Australia.

The Montenegrin national was to face South Hedland court on Tuesday (24 May) after he was arrested on the Interlink Veracity on Monday and later charged with importing a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs.

The AFP arrested the man after a forensic examination of a mobile device seized from him last week allegedly uncovered messages relating to the drug importation.

AFP, Western Australia Police Force and Australian Border Force officers also searched the 179-metre vessel again yesterday as part of ongoing inquiries into the alleged drug trafficking enterprise, which was disrupted after a multiagency investigation.

Authorities seized the cocaine – which they say is worth about $128 million – in Port Hedland on 15 May and arrested two men who they allege had collected the plastic wrapped drugs from the ocean off the coast of the Pilbara town.

Police will allege that Interlink Veracity’s master smuggled the cocaine onto the vessel at an overseas port.

He allegedly waited until the vessel was anchored in Australian waters about 28 kilometres off Port Hedland on 14 May and dropped the packages into the ocean for retrieval.

The two other men charged – a German national and a New South Wales man – allegedly used a small boat to pick up the drugs from the water that evening.

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AFP acting Assistant Commissioner John Tanti said the AFP and its partners had warned that the seizure of the drugs and initial arrests were just the start of the investigation, and they would be relentless in pursuing anyone involved in the venture.

“Trusted insiders are one of the highest threats to the integrity of Australia’s cargo supply chains,” acting Assistant Commissioner Tanti said.

“Transnational organised crime syndicates rely on people who are willing to abuse the access and influence they have through their employment to help bring illicit drugs into Australia, as the accused is alleged to have done in this case.

“The AFP is also working with international partners to target these organised crime syndicates offshore and ensure they cannot profit at the expense of Australian communities.”

WAPF Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said the overnight arrest further demonstrated that people involved in the alleged importation of illicit drugs would be actively pursued.

“It is our clear objective to systematically pull apart the syndicates that are responsible for the trafficking of these deadly illicit drugs to Western Australia,” WA Police Force Deputy Commissioner Blanch said.

“Our message to those who consider becoming involved in drug trafficking operations is simple – don’t. We will pursue you regardless of your role or your location in the world.”

ABF acting Commander West Shaun Senior said the agency maintained a strong presence along the Western Australian coast and this third arrest in this operation was another illustration of the close cooperation with law enforcement partners.

“We will continue to actively pursue all individuals that were involved in this attempted importation,” Acting Commander Senior said.

 The bulker’s master has been charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, namely cocaine. The offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The German national, aged 37, and the NSW man, aged 49, have both been charged with importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs and failing to comply with a 3LA order. They are remanded in custody and are next due in court on 15 June.

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