Australian Federal Police (AFP) are calling for information after 200 kilograms of cocaine was seized from the hull of a cargo ship that previously visited New Zealand.
On August 9, a ship that had gone from Argentina via New Zealand and was docked in Melbourne’s Maribyrnong Terminal was searched by Australian Border Force (ABF) personnel using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
In the ship’s sea chest, which houses the pipes used to pump seawater into and out of the ballast tanks, ABF officers using the underwater vehicle discovered a suspicious hull attachment.
Packages of cocaine were found within the sea chest by specialised divers from the Victoria Police Search and Rescue Squad, and these packages were later seized by the AFP.
With an estimated street worth of $80 million, the AFP seized roughly 200kg of cocaine from the ship and launched an investigation to determine where the drugs originated from and where they were headed.
In the past 20 years, law enforcement has frequently discovered attachments below the waterline of cargo ships. According to AFP commander Richard Chin, retrieving such containers can cause narcotics traffickers to die or suffer significant injuries.
“This concealment method is not new, and this seizure is another case of law enforcement remaining one step ahead of criminals attempting to bring harmful, illicit drugs into our country and into our community,” Chin said.
“We have prevented 200kgs of cocaine from reaching our streets, and in doing so, we have prevented approximately one million street deals and the significant harm to our society that flows as a result.
“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.”
According to ABF maritime and enforcement south commander Clinton Sims, organised crime organisations are targeting Australia to smuggle drugs across the border on commercial ships utilising parasitic hull attachments.
“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,” Sims said.
NZ Police have been approached for comment.