Australian Police and Border Protection Services are investigating a bulker that arrived in Newcastle over the weekend after the body of a diver was discovered along the coast and later found in the port of what were believed to be cocaine packages. Authorities said the port has been observed as a risk point for drug smuggling, but they are puzzled by the strange circumstances of the situation, leading them to believe it is part of a larger smuggling operation.
The 60,000 dwt bulk carrier Areti arrived in Newcastle on Sunday 8th May after a journey from San Lorenzo, Argentina. The vessel, registered in the Marshall Islands, is carrying a cargo of soybean powder and was routinely inspected upon arrival.
Police were called to the port on Monday morning following reports of an unconscious diver off shore. Attempts to revive the diver were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Police immediately noted the unusual circumstances of the man, believed to be a foreigner, wearing a wetsuit with sophisticated driving gear. They said he had a high tech rebreather that doesn’t eject air bubbles and is normally only used by very experienced divers.
They also spotted yellow packages around the port, which when examined appeared to contain cocaine. So far they have recovered 50kg worth A$20m ($13.8m) as the search continues on shore, in port and on the bulker. Police speculated to the media, without explaining their reasons, that a total of A$100 million (US$70 million) worth of cocaine could be involved.
Police divers were in port on Monday to inspect the hull and area around the 200-meter-long ship and are believed to be looking for signs of a sea chest that may contain the drugs. They also reboarded the ship, which is being held, to question the crew more closely about possible involvement in the smuggling.
A review of surveillance footage from the port shows that two small boats, one a rubber dinghy and the other a small aluminum boat, approached the bulker overnight Sunday in a possible attempt to locate the drugs.
“Obviously there are more people involved than the dead,” Superintendent Rob Critchlow of the New South Wales Police Force told local reporters. “As most people would know, people don’t dive alone.” They weren’t sure why the operators of the boats left the diver and the drugs behind, possibly leaving him dead or on shore.
Police divers were supposed to be around the ship again on Tuesday to continue checking the hull, while police are also searching local dive shops and asking for the public’s help to locate anyone who may have bought this sophisticated cruising gear in recent days. A search of police databases failed to identify the dead man.