The body of a diver was found alongside more than 50 kilograms of packaged cocaine, worth an estimated $20 million, at the world’s largest coal port on Monday.
Police were called to Kooragang Island in the Australian city of Newcastle at about 9:30AM after receiving reports of an unconscious diver on the banks of the Hunter River. The man, who is yet to be formally identified, died at the scene, despite the efforts of paramedics.
Multiple parcels containing cocaine were discovered in the surrounding area, “packaged up in a way that appeared to be brought from overseas,” according to organised crime squad commander Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow.
“We're not 100 percent certain in saying this person was involved but it certainly is something we’re looking at,” said Critchlow.
He noted that the man—who was first seen floating in the water by port officials—was wearing scuba diving gear along with “some pretty specialised equipment.” This reportedly included a rebreather, an apparatus that allows people to stay underwater for extended periods without giving off bubbles.
Police divers will continue a search of the area today, assisted by officers from the Australian Border Force. Meanwhile, New South Wales Police are requesting locals or anyone with information to come forward in relation to reports of suspicious activity in the area on Sunday night.
Newcastle’s coal export terminal sees more than 2,000 ships come and go each year, many of them shipping coal overseas at all hours of the day and night.
A small inflatable boat and a 5-metre runabout were spotted near a ship named Areti.GR, which arrived in the Port of Newcastle on Sunday after departing Argentina just over a month ago, according to the police. The ship is registered to the Marshall Islands.
“This was a well-drilled, professional group—quite comfortable doing what they were doing; comfortable sending drugs on a ship across the world… to target that community here in Australia,” Critchlow told the media. “They knew what they were doing.”
Over the past decade, one of the world’s most lucrative drug corridors has developed between Latin America, the biggest cocaine producers and exporters in the world, and Australia, the world’s highest paying consumers.
This “drug highway” cuts straight through the heart of the Pacific Islands region, and in recent years has spilled over into domestic markets, both for illicit drug consumption and production.
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