Manila: Australian authorities seized 416 kg of cocaine deposited at sea which was later traced to a bulk carrier. Four Filipino sailors are now charged with drug trafficking in Australia.
The reported amount of cocaine is the highest amount of the drug ever detected in South Australia and is the result of an extensive multi-agency investigation into transnational organized crime, the Australian government has said.
“The four men, aged between 29 and 44, have been charged with importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, namely cocaine, contrary to Section 307(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 “, said the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Australian Border Force (ABF), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, South Australia Police and the Department of Home Affairs said in a joint statement dated March 31.
The seizure led to a joint agency investigation, dubbed “Operation Lithgow”, according to the Australian Border Force (ABF) website.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed on Monday April 4, 2022 the arrest of the four Filipino citizens.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs, through the Consulate General of the Philippines in Melbourne and the Embassy of the Philippines in Canberra, Australia, is closely monitoring the situation of the four (4) Filipino sailors from the Cypriot-flagged vessel Safe Bulkers. . Bravery of Kypros, in Adelaide, South Australia, who were arrested for allegedly importing a commercial amount of border-controlled drugs,” the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday. The Consulate General is coordinating closely with Australian authorities on the matter, he added.
If convicted, the Filipinos could face a maximum sentence of life in prison, authorities added.
The ABF said officers first searched a bulk merchant vessel in Port Adelaide on March 17 and found evidence it may have been involved in a drug dump at sea.
AFP Deputy Commissioner Peter Harvey said the drug seizure was the result of a multi-agency investigation into international organized crime.
The combined forces of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Border Force (ABF), South Australian Police, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and Home Office worked together on the ‘case. The 416 kg of cocaine has an estimated street value of A$166 million (about $125 million).
“The investigation was launched in mid-March after an assessment of intelligence suggesting a commercial bulk carrier vessel, the Bravery of Kyproswas to be used for illicit drug trafficking in Australia,” Harvey said.
Harvey said the ABF “conducted a methodical, arduous and endless search of the ocean area and located the cargo on March 18.”
The Foreign Ministry said consulate officials were able to speak with the sailors, according to the Philippine News Agency.
“All four are in good health and are being treated well by Australian authorities,” the department said, adding that the sailors have also asked that their families be notified of their situation.
“The four Filipino sailors were individually given public defenders when they appeared in Port Adelaide Magistrates Court on April 1, 2022,” the DFA said.
“The Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Canberra has also been in contact with the freighter’s shipping/personnel agency,” the DFA said. The department said the Philippine government “expects all Filipinos to uphold the rule of law wherever they find themselves.”