Australian Border Force Disrupts Cocaine Smuggling Operation Using Hull Concealment Technique

Innovative ROV Inspection at Port of Melbourne’s Appleton Dock Yields 154-Kilogram Seizure, Underscoring Ongoing Efforts Against Transnational Drug Trafficking

Bulker with drugs

The Australian Border Force has achieved significant success in thwarting attempts by drug smugglers to conceal narcotics within the sea chest of bulk carriers arriving at the Port of Melbourne. This method, employing underwater attachments, is a favored technique for transporting smaller consignments of cocaine, exemplified by a recent interdiction of a 150-kilogram shipment. However, this modus operandi is not without its perils, as evidenced by a tragic incident in 2022 when a diver was discovered lifeless on the Newcastle shore, adjacent to cocaine bricks believed to have been intended for retrieval from a merchant ship’s sea chest.

In the most recent episode of hull-based smuggling, the Australian Border Force deployed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to conduct an inspection of a vessel at Melbourne’s Appleton Dock. The ROV detected suspicious packages situated beneath the waterline of the ship, prompting the dispatch of a team of divers from the Victoria Police for a thorough investigation. The divers successfully recovered four packages of cocaine, securely stowed within the sea chest before the ship’s departure from South America. Importantly, law enforcement emphasized that this particular location was inaccessible to the ship’s crew.

The cumulative seizure amounted to approximately 154 kilograms of cocaine, valued at approximately US$39 million in the Australian market. This success comes on the heels of a similar interception just months prior in August, where the task force confiscated an additional 200-kilogram haul concealed in a comparable fashion at the Port of Melbourne.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec underscored the Border Force’s vigilance in anticipating the entry points and storage methods employed by illicit drug traffickers. Moreover, she issued a stern warning to divers engaged by criminal syndicates, emphasizing the inherent dangers associated with retrieval operations, often requiring navigation through dimly lit and congested shipping channels with limited safety equipment.

Assistant Commissioner Sirec outlined the agency’s proactive stance against transnational organized crime, expressing a commitment to collaborative efforts abroad. Overseas criminals, if deported or extradited to Australia for trial, could face severe penalties, including life imprisonment. Sirec concluded by emphasizing the broader societal impact of curbing illicit drug imports, highlighting the role it plays in fostering community safety and mitigating issues such as the road toll, child neglect, and family violence.

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