Two seafarers have been charged over their alleged role in smuggling cocaine into Western Australia aboard a Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier.
The men, both from Montenegro, served as captain (43) and chief engineer (39) aboard the 58,000 dwt Supramax St Pinot. They have been charged by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine and are expected to appear before Perth Magistrates’ Court on Friday.
Police say the couple knew cocaine was hidden on board the ship and plan to dump it off the Fremantle coast for another group to collect. The captain allegedly instructed other crew members to change the ship’s course as it approached the port of Fremantle to rendezvous with another ship, a cabin cruiser named No Fixed Address, but police said the planned one Exchange failed.
The men then allegedly attempted to conceal the drugs by filling the ballast tank where the drugs were hidden with water, and instructed crew members to backdate logs and provide false information to shipping authorities.
The two Montenegrin nationals have each been charged with importing into Australia a commercial quantity of a cross-border drug, cocaine, in violation of Section 307.1(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth). If convicted, they face a maximum of life imprisonment.
“These individuals have allegedly gone to great lengths to conceal their illegal activities from law enforcement and other authorities, but AFP and its partners are committed to preventing the supply of harmful drugs to the Australian community,” said AFP’s Deputy Commissioner, Pryce Scanlan. “Our message to organized crime groups is that AFP will be adamant about protecting Australians from the harm caused by these illegal drugs and the criminal behavior associated with them.
A joint official investigation last month found around 849.5 kilograms of cocaine. Police arrested three men, aged 21, 25 and 29, who had been traveling on the cabin cruiser and charged them with alleged involvement in the attempted import.
A replacement captain and engineer have been transferred to the ship as authorities continue their comprehensive search of the bulk carrier.
ABF Commander Operations West, Ranjeev Maharaj, said record levels of cocaine shipments were being seized at the Australian border and the ABF is working closely with partner agencies at home and abroad to combat this criminal behaviour.
“The Australian border is a strategic national asset and is fundamental to our national security, economic prosperity and way of life,” said Commander Maharaj. “That’s why the ABF is working so closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure the border is maintained.” “A hostile environment for criminals trying to import illegal drugs. We will continue to deter, track down and disrupt those attempting to import harmful drugs into Australia.”
Jennifer Hurst, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) executive director of intelligence operations, believed that cross-agency collaboration was vital to tackling the harm of illicit drugs in Australia.
“ACIC intelligence shows that cocaine poses a high risk to the Australian community, causing enduring harm and diverting astronomical amounts of money into the criminal economy,” Hurst said of the Illicit Drug Market.