The floating body of a scuba diver and packages found later to contain cocaine were found close to bulk-carrier ship Areti GR in the waters of the port of Newcastle NSW on Tuesday, 10 May.
The Areti GR which is sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands had sailed to Newcastle from San Lorenzo in Argentina and Australian police officials believe the diver had run into trouble while trying to recover the packages of cocaine worth tens of millions of dollars which may have been attached to the vessel’s hull.
Police told the ABC that the diver who died at the scene had been identified and they believed that he may have travelled from South America. They said the method of attaching drugs packages to cargo ship hulls was one that international drug cartels were using to avoid detection.
NSW Organised Crime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow said the price cocaine fetched in Sydney was the highest in the world, making it an important destination for international drug traffickers.
“The high retail price of cocaine in Australia is a huge draw for international drug traffickers and they are targeting our community. … It is a high-end, sophisticated operation. We’re looking at moving people and commodities across the world.
“We are certainly concerned about the ports of Newcastle and Wollongong. Organised crime definitely look for weaknesses to target at those ports.
“Any port has a lot of movements, so a lot of ships, a lot of trucks, a lot of people. So, it is easier to hide drugs among that,” Superintendent Critchlow said.
Australian Border Force Superintendent Tony Wheatley said that the underwater hiding of drugs on ship hulls was used around the world.
“The crew potentially have no idea there are narcotics placed on the hull of the vessel,” Superintendent Tony Wheatley said.
As a result, the Australian Border Force now used scuba divers and remotely operated underwater vessels to check the hulls of ships entering Australian ports.
In an unrelated incident two Sydney men faced charges last week of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into Port Botany. The Australian Federal Police alleged that the men were members of an international crime network that had twice sought to bring cocaine into Australia hidden in car tyres that were attached by chains on the outside of cargo ships.