NSW Police have identified the body of a diver who died surrounded by bricks of cocaine worth millions as a South American man.
His body was found floating in waters at the Port of Newcastle on Monday, with police suspecting he was trying to bring ashore up to 50 kilograms of cocaine.
The man, who was dressed in tactical diving gear, was recovered alongside numerous packets of the illicit drug with a street value of up to $20million.
A post-mortem will be carried out on the diver as police continue to search the cargo ship in hopes of finding the rest of the international shipment.
The discovery comes as the Australian Federal Police (ADF) reveals a growing number of international crime syndicates are using ships’ hulls to hide drugs.
NSW Police have identified the body of a diver who died surrounded by bricks of cocaine worth millions as a South American man (pictured, detectives in Newcastle on Monday)
Organised Crime Squad Commander and Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow described the group behind the alleged conspiracy as ‘well-drilled’.
‘This was a well-drilled, professional group … comfortable sending drugs on a ship across the world,’ Det Supt Critchlow said earlier this week.
‘They knew exactly what they were doing.’
The top cop said the port had been under police scrutiny for some time.
‘There have been some indications in the past of (outlaw criminal motorcycle gang) involvement around the docks,’ he said.
‘It remains a point of risk … and organised crime definitely look for weaknesses to target those ports.’
The drugs were bricks of cocaine covered in thick yellow plastic in a bundle that had been additionally secured with ropes and tape (pictured)
A large-scale investigation is now underway involving officers from Newcastle City Police District, specialist forensic teams, Marine Area Command, the Australian Border Force and Organised Crime Squad detectives.
The Australian Border Force are now closely examining a nearby ship and its crew.
‘It is a ship that is registered in Panama and it last left port in Argentina before it came to Australia,’ Detective Superintendent Critchlow said.
‘We are talking to all the sailors on board and the Captain as well as offshore authorities.’
Authorities first became aware of modern drug syndicates using the ‘old-school’ smuggling tactic during Operation Ironside.
NSW Police and other agencies will continue to search the cargo ship in hopes of finding the remainder of the substantial haul (pictured, divers at the scene in Newcastle on Monday)
Police are especially concerned about movements at ports in Newcastle and Wollongong due to their proximity to the lucrative market in the Harbour City
The international sting targeted intercepted encrypted messages and uncovered plans to conceal drugs by attaching them to the outside of ships.
While the ‘underwater concealments’ are seen worldwide, police say Sydney is a favoured drug destination due to the high retail price of cocaine.
International traffickers secure the drugs to the hulls of Sydney-bound ships which are then received by highly-skilled divers when they reach the port.
NSW Police investigator turned private sector consultant Peter Moroney recently revealed to Daily Mail Australia that an old tactic of drug traffickers was to train in deep-water scuba diving.
‘Someone would fly to places such as Indonesia, identify a cargo ship then dive down and secretly attach drugs to the hull of the vessel,’ the ex-cop said.
The Australian Border Force are now closely examining a nearby ship and its crew after the body of a South American man and up to 50 kilograms of cocaine were found on Monday
‘When it arrived and was under anchor they would then un-attach it and bring it back to an Australian port.’
Police are especially concerned about movements at ports in Newcastle and Wollongong due to their proximity to the lucrative market in the Harbour City.
Superintendent Critchlow said Sydney was a ‘huge market’.
‘Any port has a lot of movements, so a lot of ships, a lot of trucks, a lot of people. So it is easier to hide drugs among that,’ he said.
Last week, two men appeared in court after allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine into Port Botany in southeast Sydney, by hiding the drugs in tyres chained to the outside of cargo vessels.
The AFP allege the men were part of a transnational drug syndicate that twice tried to smuggle cocaine into the busy port, in late 2019 and early 2020.
It is alleged on the first attempt in October 2019, one of the men – an experienced diver – dropped the tyre onto the ocean floor while trying to retrieve it.
Police divers later located the tyre and found it to be empty, concluding the drugs must have fallen out during the voyage to Australia.
Four months later, the same group tried to import 30 kilograms of cocaine with authorities secretly locating another tyre, which was again found empty.
A third Sydney man has been charged over the alleged importation and is due to face court in June.