The Coralynne was intercepted Saturday night off the coast of Newcastle after Australian intelligence officers saw it load suspicious cargo from a foreign ship they had been tracking through Australia’s waters. Officers pursued the boat, battling 11-foot swells in the choppy sea, and captured the trawler, officials said in a joint statement.
The Australian Border Force said 1.98 U.S. tons (1.8 metric tons) of cocaine in 1,890 blocks were removed from the trawler now docked in Sydney Harbor. The potential value of the drug was up to $616 million (AU$850.5 million), the agency said.
A man from Hong Kong and two Australians were arrested aboard the vessel. They were refused bail Monday on charges of attempting to import a commercial quantity of cocaine. Each faces a potential life prison sentence if convicted. The men have not yet entered pleas.
“Organized 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,” NSW Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said.
International criminal syndicates target the Australian illicit drug market because of the relatively high prices Australians are prepared to pay.
Australian Border Force Regional Commander for NSW Danielle Yannopoulos said the agency’s priority to stop illicit drugs from being smuggled in won’t be stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Australia’s maritime border is vast and criminals think they can exploit that and evade detection, but they are wrong,” Yannopoulos said. “Criminals should always assume the ABF is nearby and is watching.”
The joint operation was carried out by the Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force and the Australian Border Force.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.