Australia Today

A Seal Helped Police Pull Off a $1 Billion Drug Bust

A gang of international drug smugglers was thwarted when a disgruntled elephant seal cornered them on the beach, forcing their arrest.

by Gavin Butler
13 September 2019, 5:01am

Not actually the seal or the drugs. Image viaPublic Domain Pictures (L) and Wikimedia (R)

A Brit and a Frenchman walked onto a sand bar. Graham Palmer, 34, and Antoine Dicenta, 51, came ashore at Burton Island, just off the Western Australian port town of Geraldton last week to collect a huge shipment of drugs that had been stashed there, according to police. More than a tonne of methylamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy—with a collective street value of some $1 billion AUD (approx. $688 million US)—was packaged up in dozens of bags and hidden under a blanket of seaweed. The plan, presumably, was to grab the bags, load them onto the dinghy, and disappear over the horizon. The elephant seal sleeping on the beach had not been accounted for.

Things first started unravelling for Palmer and Dicenta when authorities noticed that a yacht was stuck on a reef near Stick Island, about 7km from Burton, The Guardian reports. A plane was dispatched to search the area, with fears that the vessel’s occupants might have run into trouble at sea, and shortly thereafter a crayfisherman noticed a man ducking down in the scrub on Burton Island in an attempt to hide from the aircraft.

When police raided the island, Palmer and Dicenta bolted for their dinghy. And that’s when they ran into the seal.

“They woke it up and it jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them,” said Geraldton volunteer marine rescue service Vice Commander Damien Healy. “The guys basically had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested and they ended up choosing getting arrested.”

Palmer and Dicenta faced court in Geraldton last week, and are due to appear in court again on September 20.

Three other men were also arrested this week in connection with the crime—Jason Dean Lassiter, 45, an American; Scott Felix Jones, 35, another Brit; and Angus Bruce Jackson, 50, from New South Wales, Australia. Lassiter and Jones were arrested in the centre of Perth, while Jackson was arrested at Perth airport. Police will allege that the trio constituted “the shore party.”

“They were in another boat and they were ready to receive,” Western Australian police commissioner Chris Dawson told ABC radio. “We’ve disrupted a big international drug syndicate here.”

Due in no small part to a cantankerous seal.

Follow Gavin on Twitter or Instagram