POLICE have searched a vessel in Port of Gladstone after three men allegedly collected 500 kilograms of cocaine from a cargo ship at sea.

The men were arrested at the regional Boyne Island boat ramp on Sunday (28 April) when they returned to shore in an 8.2-metre fishing boat.

Australian Federal Police allegedly found 15 waterproof bags in the fishing boat, each containing about 32 blocks of cocaine, and each block weighing in at one kilogram.

On Monday this week (29 April) the AFP searched a vessel anchored in the Port of Gladstone. Investigations are ongoing.

Police had also searched a motel in Gladstone and residential premises in Newcastle and the Central Coast.

AFP Commander John Tanti said alleged criminals attempting to collect drugs from larger ships and import them into Australia were risking their lives often in dangerous conditions.

“This alleged attempt to collect cocaine from the ocean shows the extreme lengths criminals will go to in an attempt to bring illicit drugs into Australian communities for their own greed and profit, but the AFP and its law enforcement partners are constantly working to remain one step ahead,” Commander Tanti said.

He said police estimate 500 kilograms of cocaine to have a street value of more than $162 million.

“Investigations into the origin of the drugs remain ongoing, and we will work with our international and domestic law enforcement partners to identify the criminal syndicates and anyone else involved in facilitating this alleged attempted drug import.”

The Morisset Park man, 66, Charlestown man, 45, and Lake Macquarie man, 27, were charged with one count of possessing a commercially imported border-controlled drug.

The three men faced Gladstone Magistrates Court on Monday and were remanded in custody. They are next scheduled to face Gladstone Magistrates Court on 19 July.

The maximum penalty for their offence is life imprisonment.

Police have urged anyone with information about this shipment to come forward and contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.