A ship captain has been charged in Australia for his alleged role in a drug smuggling operation at the Port of Hedland. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
The 51-year-old captain, Master of the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Interlink Veracity, belonging to Interlink Maritime, stands accused importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, namely 320 kg of cocaine which was seized in Port Hedland in Western Australia on May 15. Authorities seized the cocaine—worth about $128 million—and arrested two men who allegedly collected the plastic-wrapped drugs from the ocean off the coast of the Pilbara town.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have now arrested the captain after a forensic examination of his mobile device last week allegedly uncovered messages connecting him to the drugs.
The police allege the captain helped to smuggle the cocaine onto the M/V Interlink Veracity at an overseas port and waited until the vessel was anchored in Australian waters, about 28 km off Port Hedland, to drop the packages into the ocean for pickup.
The two other men charged, a German national and a NSW man, allegedly used a small boat to pick up the drugs from the water that evening.
The captain, a Montenegrin national, was expected to face South Hedland court on Tuesday, facing a charge of importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug in violation of section 307.1(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth). The offense carries a maximum penalty of life in jail.
The other two men have both been charged with importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs and failing to comply with a 3LA order. They are remanded in custody and are next due in court in June.
AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner John Tanti said the agency and its partners are warning that the seizure of the drugs and initial arrests are just the start of the investigation, and they would be relentless in pursuing anyone involved in the smuggling operation.
“Trusted insiders are one of the highest threats to the integrity of Australia’s cargo supply chains,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Tanti said. “Transnational organised crime syndicates rely on people who are willing to abuse the access and influence they have through their employment to help bring illicit drugs into Australia, as the accused is alleged to have done in this case.
Western Australian Police Force Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said the overnight arrest of the captain further demonstrates that people involved in the smuggling of illicit drugs into Australia would be actively pursued.
“It is our clear objective to systematically pull apart the syndicates that are responsible for the trafficking of these deadly illicit drugs to Western Australia,” Deputy Commissioner Blanch said. “Our message to those who consider becoming involved in drug trafficking operations is simple – don’t. We will pursue you regardless of your role or your location in the world.”
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