The master of an international bulk carrier has been charged over his role in a plot to import 320 kilograms of cocaine into Western Australia.
The 51-year-old Montenegrin national is expected to face South Hedland court on Tuesday after being arrested on the cargo vessel Interlink Veracity and charged with importing a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs.
Australian Federal Police arrested the man after a forensic examination of a mobile device seized from him last week allegedly uncovered messages relating to the drug importation.
AFP, WA police and Australian Border Force officers also searched the 179-metre bulk carrier again on Monday as part of ongoing inquiries into the drug trafficking operation.
Authorities seized the cocaine, worth about $128 million, in Port Hedland on May 15 and arrested two men who they alleged had collected the plastic-wrapped drugs from the ocean off the coast of the Pilbara town.
Police allege the ship's master smuggled the cocaine onto the Interlink Veracity at an overseas port before dropping the drugs into the ocean off the WA coast.
Earlier this month, a NSW man and a German national, with suspected links to organised crime, were charged over the drug haul.
The men were arrested in Port Hedland after investigators found the 320 individual blocks in a campervan.
Police alleged the 37-year-old German man flew into Australia earlier this month to help retrieve the drugs.
They said he met the 49-year-old NSW man in Port Hedland and the pair travelled to Karratha, where they hired a 6.5-metre boat.
They drove it to Port Hedland before later launching it from a local boat ramp and heading about 28 kilometres out to sea on Thursday and Friday evenings.
Police allege the pair used the runabout to collect the cocaine from the ocean.
AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner John Tanti said trusted insiders were one of the highest threats to the integrity of Australia's cargo supply chains.
"Transnational organised crime syndicates rely on people who are willing to abuse the access and influence they have through their employment to help bring illicit drugs into Australia, as the accused is alleged to have done in this case," he said.
Australian Associated Press
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