400kg cocaine importation in the spotlight as Crime Interrupted concludes
Editor’s note: Photographs of the operation are available via Hightail.
The inner workings of a law enforcement operation to track a yacht hauling more than 400kg of cocaine to Australia is the subject of the final episode of season two of the AFP’s award-winning podcast Crime Interrupted.
The episode focuses on a major strike by the AFP, Australian Border Force and the NSW Police Force against a transnational organised crime group behind what was – at the time – the third largest cocaine haul in Australian history.
Operation Collage began with intelligence that a large quantity of drugs was destined for Australian shores hidden on a ship sailing from Ecuador. Police worked with the then-Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to identify and track the vessel sailing across the Pacific towards the Australian coastline.
Police and border protection vessels were dispatched from Sydney to surveil the ship when it reached Australian waters. By this time, investigators had located a yacht which left Australia to rendezvous with the larger ship to transfer the cocaine at sea.
The podcast recounts the challenging conditions faced by investigators as they shadowed the ships over four days in treacherous conditions before the yacht finally berthed at a marina located north of Brisbane with 400kg of cocaine.
It was here AFP investigators intercepted the two members of the crew as they travelled ashore with 45kg of cocaine. A simultaneous search of their yacht uncovered more than 355kg of cocaine onboard.
Investigators later executed a further 12 search warrants across New South Wales and Queensland, later uncovering a clandestine lab in Eden, NSW.
The two crew members of the yacht were arrested in the suburb of Kippa-Ring, Queensland, and were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug. The men were sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, with non-parole periods of 18 years and 20 years, respectively.
Another man, who met the two crew members and took possession of the 45kg of cocaine, was charged with possessing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug and later sentenced to 10 years and 6 months imprisonment (with a non-parole period of 5 years and 9 months).
Customs officers intercepted the South American vessel off the Australian coastline, and returned the two crew members of that vessel to Brisbane. The two crew members were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug. One was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 15 years, and the other 30 years’ jail with a non-parole period of 16 years.
AFP Detective Inspector Luke Wilson said Operation Collage was a career highlight so early on during his time within the AFP.
“To have been part of the team investigating this complex drug importation so early on in my career was a real eye-opener. Recounting the story during the podcast definitely brought back some memories,” Det-Insp. Wilson said.
“Op Collage highlighted what can be achieved when law enforcement agencies work together, and I believe we delivered a really positive outcome for the Australian community, which had a significant impact on an organised crime syndicate targeting our country.”
The AFP partnered with Casefile to produce a second season of Crime Interrupted, which showcases another six episodes on AFP investigations into counter terrorism, transnational serious organised crime, cybercrime and more.
You can listen to Crime Interrupted for free wherever you get your podcasts. Search for Crime Interrupted, or visit afp.gov.au/CrimeInterrupted
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