Australian officials seized more than a ton of cocaine worth about 360 million Australian dollars ($260 million) in what police on Thursday dubbed one of the largest drug busts in the nation’s history.
Fifteen men were arrested following a 2 ½-year federal and state police investigation into suspected drug trafficking by commercial fishermen in Sydney, New South Wales police said in a statement.
In March, officials seized 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of cocaine in the South Pacific island nation of Tahiti that police say was bound for the Australian market. On Sunday, police seized 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of cocaine that was found on a boat in the town of Brooklyn, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Sydney. The drugs are believed to have come from South America.
“The size of that seizure collectively makes it the largest cocaine seizure in Australian law enforcement history,” Australian Federal Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Chris Sheehan told reporters. “The criminal syndicate we have dismantled over the last few days was a robust, resilient and determined syndicate.”
In early December, police and border officials began monitoring a vessel that was traveling between Sydney’s popular fish markets and the central coast of New South Wales. On Christmas night, police say a small boat was launched from the vessel and later docked in Brooklyn. Authorities swooped on the boat and arrested three men. Another 12 men were arrested over the past several days.
All of the men have been charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs. If convicted, they could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The investigation began more than two years ago following a tip from a member of the public and enquiries were continuing, notably in South America.
The arrested, aged between 29 and 63 years, were charged with serious drug importation offences and all were refused bail.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph said one of the 15 in custody was a former rugby league star and another a Bondi businessman.
With high street prices attracting drug sellers to Australia, police said they made more than 18,000 imported drug seizures in the last year.