Senior police investigating the death of a diver in Newcastle found with an estimated $20 million worth of cocaine say the 50kg drug importation was clearly attempted by a ‘well-trained professional group’ .
Emergency teams were called to Heron Road in Kooragang – Newcastle port – around 9.30am on Monday where they found a man with over 50kg of illicit drugs in the immediate area.
Police said on Tuesday morning the diver was found unconscious in the water at Pier 2 at the Port of Newcastle, and members of the public performed CPR on him – but he died at the scene.
The cocaine is said to have a street value of $20 million.
It is not yet known exactly how the diver got into trouble before his death.
NSW Police Organized Crime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Robert Critchlow said the man remains unidentified after checking all available Australian databases.
Detective Superintendent Critchlow said investigators were also looking for information about a rubber ducky inflatable vessel and a five-meter aluminum Quintrex runabout with a green stripe seen in the area around midnight Sunday.
He said the cause of the diver’s death was unclear but he was wearing a rebreather, described as “specialist diving equipment used by people with a high level of training”.
Police are investigating the possibility that the drugs were smuggled into Australia attached to a ship from the Marshall Islands port of Maduro – Aret. G Majuro – who appears to have left Argentina about a month ago.
The ship remained in port on Tuesday morning but was expected to be able to continue its voyage on Tuesday evening – all crew members were questioned by police.
Australian Border Force Acting Superintendent Anthony Wheatley said 50kg of cocaine was “a significant amount”.
Superintendent Wheatley said hiding drugs underwater was seen around the world and in most cases the crew of the ship carrying the drugs were doing it unknowingly.
Detective Superintendent Critchlow said the high market value of cocaine in Australia made it an attractive target for international traffickers.
“We’ve detected this methodology intermittently over the years,” he said.
“Often the ships are innocent agents – they are used by criminal groups to bring in drugs out of the blue.
“It’s a high-end sophisticated operation, they envision moving goods and people around the world.
“The high retail price in Australia is a huge lure for international traffickers and they are targeting our community with this poison to sell for profit.
“Setting up an expedition of this magnitude is a rather complicated arrangement and done in a very very professional way.
Marine Area Command investigators and police divers continued their search for additional clues on Tuesday.
The Organized Crime Squad and the Australian Federal Police are also investigating the case.
The diver is expected to be examined by the coroner on Tuesday.
Detective Superintendent Critchlow said it was concerning that there appeared to be more people than the dead involved in the operation at Berth Two, but appeared to have been “left for dead”.
“The presence of two boats indicates at least two other people,” he said.
“It’s pretty disgusting that this man was left for dead, no matter what he was involved in.”