Two illegal immigrants who allegedly sailed across the Indian Ocean to Western Australia with $1 billion of illegal drugs have been thwarted by a seal.

French national Antoine Dicenta, 51, and British man Graham Palmer, 34 are accused of running their yacht aground and fleeing in a dinghy to nearby Burton Island where one tonne of drugs were found hidden in seaweed.

Initially, local rescuers were concerned when they discovered a damaged yacht had struck a reef 60km off the coast of Australia.

The boat was spotted on Monday, triggering a major search and rescue operation.

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French national Antoine Dicenta, 51, and British man Graham Palmer, 34, are accused of running their yacht aground on a reef off Geraldton then fleeing in a dinghy to Burton Island. Photo / 9 News
French national Antoine Dicenta, 51, and British man Graham Palmer, 34, are accused of running their yacht aground on a reef off Geraldton then fleeing in a dinghy to Burton Island. Photo / 9 News

Police, fisherman and locals searched for the pair but suspicions were raised when someone saw two men trying to hide a large stash of goods under seaweed before making a dash for cover in the bushes as planes flew overhead.

But as the pair were trying to get back to their alleged stash of illicit drugs, one daring seal decided to uncover the whole escape plan.

"When they got on the island, the guys made a run for their tender and there was this big, huge seal asleep between them and the tender," Geraldton Volunteer Marine Rescue Service vice commander Damien Healy told ABC radio on Monday.

About one tonne of illicit drugs has been found on a West Australian island after a yacht ran aground on a reef. Photo / Australian Police
About one tonne of illicit drugs has been found on a West Australian island after a yacht ran aground on a reef. Photo / Australian Police
Police said tests indicate the bags contain cocaine and ecstasy. Photo / Australian Police
Police said tests indicate the bags contain cocaine and ecstasy. Photo / Australian Police

"They woke it up and it jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them.

"The guys basically had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested and they ended up choosing getting arrested."

The pair were caught with 40 bags of ecstasy, cocaine and meth.

It's the third major haul in four years at Geraldton.

In 2016 more than 200kg of meth was found on a boat at the same location.

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