Record-breaking cocaine haul destined for Australia seized by French Navy


7976623c8204a65792257f5b2200f408COCAINE with a street value of just over $320 million, stashed in the hull of a yacht headed for Australia, has been seized in the South Pacific.

The 1.464-tonne seizure is a record for Australian-bound cocaine. The Herald Sun can reveal that South American crime lords stashed the drugs on the yacht ­Afalina, crewed by Lithuanian and Latvian nationals.

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission officials worked with the French navy to thwart the smuggling plot.

The cocaine, seized on July 27, would have resulted in ­almost 1.5 million street deals.

The Afalina was seized off the coast of New Caledonia and towed to Noumea for further investigation. Crew from the French frigate Vendemiaire ­arrested four east Europeans.

ACIC executive director of intelligence Col Blanch said: “We are thankful for the action taken by French authorities which has stopped a significant amount of drugs reaching the streets of Australia.”

Mr Blanch said Australian authorities were working closely with French officials over the giant haul of cocaine, ­estimated to be worth $322 million on the streets.

The ACIC believes the four eastern European smugglers on the yacht were under the control of an organised crime syndicate in South America.

“Congratulations to the Marine Française and Gendarmerie Nationale for their efforts in relation to this record seizure of cocaine,” Mr Blanch said on Thursday.

“This demonstrates the importance of international law enforcement and intelligence agencies working together to effectively target transnational criminal enterprises.

“The trust that is built between nations through joint operational activity is paramount to the successful fight against organised crime.

“We have recently expanded our international presence which is assisting the investigation,” he said.

The previous record seizure of Aussie-bound cocaine was 1.422 tonnes, found on a New Zealand yacht on February 2.

HMAS Bathurst intercepted the yacht Elakha 370km off the NSW South Coast. The drugs had a street value of $312 million. The yacht received the drugs from a “mother ship” in the South Pacific before its two crewmen set sail for Australia.

Before that, the record was 938kg, seized off the WA coast 16 years ago.

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Thursday praised the French navy’s ­efforts over the new haul.

“Australian lives have been saved and a major international organised crime syndicate crippled,” Mr Keenan said.

“This record seizure is testament to the co-operation between international law enforcement and intelligence agencies. I thank the French authorities for their success.

“Drug trafficking is a transnational crime, and Australia is not sitting idle … together with our international partners we are taking up this fight beyond our borders.

“Our united front is a force to be reckoned with; it is a force that is critical in our fight against organised crime and the illicit drug trade.”

An ACIC report published last week revealed cocaine use in Victoria is on the rise.

The 45-page report contained the results of waste- water testing at the inlets of 37 sewage treatment plants around the nation.

Urine and faeces from more than 12.6 million Australians was tested to get the drug use figures detailed in the report.

Wastewater testing is considered to be the most accurate method of measuring what ­illegal drugs are being taken and where.

The ACIC report found that cocaine use in some parts of Victoria is at up to 11 hits a day per 1000 people, compared with the national average of five daily hits.