Six men have been charged after more than 1.4 tonnes of cocaine was found on the yacht, Elakha, after it was intercepted east of Sydney, Australia
The Australian authorities say they have successfully carried out the country’s biggest cocaine seizure.
Shortly before midnight on 2 February 2017, HMAS Bathurst intercepted the yacht, Elakha.
Maritime Border Command (MBC) personnel boarded the vessel, and the two crew members – a 63-year-old New Zealand man and a 54-year-old dual Swiss/Fijian national – were detained under the Maritime Powers Act 2013 (Cth).
Black bags containing a large quantity of blocks were discovered on the vessel.
Initial testing of the blocks returned a positive result for cocaine with an estimated weight of approximately 1422 kilograms (1.4 tonnes).
This amount of cocaine has a street value of approximately $312 million, though further forensic testing will be conducted to determine exact weight and purity, said the joint media release between the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force, the New Zealand Customs Service and the Organised Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand.
Police allege that the crew of the Elakha had travelled from New Zealand to a ‘mothership’ in the South Pacific Ocean last month to collect the drug.
On 3 February 2017, two Sydney men – aged 63 and 62– travelled to the New South Wales South Coast, where they met a 66-year-old man.
Police allege the three men intended to launch a motor vessel to meet the Elakha at sea before returning to shore with the drugs.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) arrested and charged the three men with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.
They appeared in Nowra Local Court on 4 February 2017, and were refused bail. They will reappear in the Central Local Court on Wednesday, 8 February 2017.
On 3 February 2017, police arrested a fourth man in Sydney who is also alleged to be involved in the conspiracy to import the cocaine.
The two-and-a-half year operation began after the Australian Federal Police received intelligence from the New Zealand Customs Service about a conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs into Australia
The investigation has also been supported by the Organised Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand, the Fijian Transnational Crime Unit, French Polynesian authorities and the Australian Border Force.
AFP acting deputy commissioner operations, Neil Gaughan, said the investigation’s success was a testament to the tenacity and dedication of those involved.
“Our officers based in Brisbane have been doggedly pursuing this matter since 2014. The interception of this huge volume of drugs and the charging of these six men is a testament to the officer’s drive and determination,” he said.
“It also highlights the importance of our close working relationships with our local and internal law enforcement partners – without which this operation could not have succeeded,” added Gaughan.
Deputy commissioner operations Michael Outram said Australian Border Force officers worked tirelessly with law enforcement partners over the course of the investigation culminating in one of the biggest drug seizure in recent times.
“We hope that this operation sends a strong message to anyone thinking of smuggling drugs: no matter how innovative or complex their ways are, our evolving detection methods and resources, including at sea, will keep up with them,” deputy commissioner Outram said.
Chief of operations Maritime Border Command (MBC), air commodore Jake Campbell, said the successful outcome of the operation showcases the sophisticated work of the MBC, Australia’s leading civil maritime security authority.
“The unique multi-agency blend of the MBC means we have at our disposal advanced technology, resources and highly trained officers to target, detect and seize illicit drugs before they reach our border,” he noted.
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