Trio arrested as authorities make large-scale drug seizure off NSW coast

Australian authorities have made three arrests and seized hundreds of kilograms of border controlled drugs in a joint investigation involving the interception of a drug-filled vessel off the NSW coast near Newcastle.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF) and the Australian Border Force (ABF) commenced the investigation after intelligence was received regarding a suspicious foreign fishing vessel on 11 August 2020.

The ABF’s Maritime Border Command (MBC) located the foreign vessel and tracked its movements as it headed into Australian waters.

MBC, with the support of law enforcement partners and the Australian Defence Force (ADF), observed an Australian commercial fishing vessel, the Coralynne, approaching the foreign vessel and making an alleged at-sea transfer of illicit drugs bound for Australia.

On 15 August 2020, NSWPF Marine Area Command vessel Nemesis intercepted the Australian vessel off the Newcastle coast. The Coralynne’s three crew members were arrested and a large amount of border controlled drugs identified in its cargo. Presumptive testing of the substance returned a positive reading for cocaine.

The Coralynne was towed to NSWPF Marine Area Command in Balmain on Sunday evening (16 August 2020), where specialised forensic officers are continuing to examine the vessel and its cargo. While the exact weight and purity of the seized substance is to be confirmed, investigators will allege the illicit drugs were stored in the engine room.

The three crew members – a Hong Kong man aged 40 and two Australian males aged 27 and 32 – were screened and COVID-tested by NSW Health before undergoing decontamination by NSW Fire and Rescue Hazardous Material Response Unit. They were charged with attempting to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs and fail or refuse to disclose identity as required.

The men appeared before the Sydney Central Local Court yesterday (17 August 2020) and were refused bail. They will next appear before the same court on 14 October 2020. They face the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Yesterday (17 August 2020), investigators from the AFP, NSWPF and ABF executed search warrants in the Sydney suburbs of Chatswood, Zetland and Glenbrook in connection with the investigation.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Eastern Command Justine Gough said the investigation shows that authorities continue to work collaboratively to dismantle organised crime groups and prevent criminal opportunities.

“Our ability to work together using the resources and expertise of each of our agencies has again prevented the importation of illicit drugs into our community,” Assistant Commissioner Gough said.

“We are committed in our efforts to identify and disrupt illicit drug supply chains and cause maximum damage to organised crime business models.”

NSW Police State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said that NSW Police and its law enforcement partners would continue to use all available resources to disrupt criminal activity.

“Organised criminal syndicates should see this weekend’s arrests as a warning, that if you wish to take advantage of the community through illegal activity in NSW, law enforcement agencies in Australia will work together to dismantle your operation,” Assistant Commissioner Smith said.

“The efforts of officers, including those from the Marine Area Command, to tackle 3.5 metre swells to ensure this illicit cargo didn’t reach our shores and those we alleged are responsible were put before the courts should be commended.”

Australian Border Force Regional Commander for NSW Danielle Yannopoulos said even during a pandemic, the ABF’s priority is to protect Australia’s borders and prevent illicit drugs like cocaine being smuggled in.

“The ability of the ABF and its law enforcement partners to quickly mobilise and intercept this vessel and ensure these drugs never made it into the Australian community is to be commended,” Commander Yannopoulos said.

“Australia’s maritime border is vast and criminals think they can exploit that and evade detection, but they are wrong. Criminals should always assume the ABF is nearby and is watching.”

Investigations are continuing both locally and internationally.