A massive haul of drugs stashed in the hull of a cargo ship docked at the Port of Melbourne had a street value of $80 million but will be destroyed, police say.
Pictures shared by the Australian Federal Police on Saturday show the staggering scale of packages of cocaine that divers retrieved from the ship last month.
The AFP says the packages, which were heavily wrapped in plastic and tied together with rope, weighed more than 200kgs.
Australian Border Force officers used underwater drones to search the vessel docked at
Melbourne’s Maribyrnong Terminal on August 9 after the ship had travelled from Argentina via New Zealand.
They said a suspicious hull attachment in the ship’s sea chest — an area that contains pipes used to pump sea water — was located and specialist divers from Victoria Police Search and Rescue Squad were called in.
AFP Commander Richard Chin is leading calls to identify those responsible for trying, without success, to bring drugs into the country.
“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,” he said.
“It could be something small from an unusual boat purchase paid in cash, through to suspicious activity at one of our ports.
“Every piece of information reported to law enforcement can help put together the picture to help us find those responsible.”
Commander Chin said attachments under the water had been regularly noticed by law enforcement over the past two decades.
“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,” he said.
“We have prevented 200kg of cocaine from reaching our streets and in doing so, we have prevented approximately 1 million street deals and the significant harm to our society that flows as a result.”
Clinton Sims is Australian Border Force Commander and said Australia was currently under siege by organised crime groups moving illegal drugs.
“Despite international law enforcement agency operations, organised crime groups continue to import illegal drugs on board commercial vessels destined for Australia,” he said.
“Our border is one of our most critical national assets and criminals should know that our efforts will continue to detect, disrupt and dismantle transnational organised crime groups who seek to test the integrity of Australia’s border.”