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An accused drug smuggler allegedly dropped a $45million shipment of cocaine to the ocean floor in a disastrous bungle that has reportedly sparked a rift between crime bosses.
Three men have been arrested over the failed importation of 60kg of cocaine into Australia, which was allegedly hidden in tyres tied up in chains on the outside of cargo ships.
However, police will allege when an experienced diver went to retrieve the drugs from the vessel docked in Port Botany, in southeast Sydney, he dropped the package – which sunk to the ocean floor.
Three men have been arrested over the failed importation of 60kg of cocaine into Australia, which was allegedly hidden in tyres tied up in chains on the outside of cargo ships (pictured)
The lost cocaine triggered an argument between the accused Australian smugglers and their overseas partners, who asked if the drugs had arrived in NSW, according to AN0M messages intercepted by police.
There were also an alleged disagreement between syndicate members about a potential multimillion debt over the failed shipment.
‘The guys in Australia were saying: ‘There’s no coke in the tyres’,’ one police source told the Daily Telegraph.
‘On the other end they were saying: ‘Well we put it there, you must have taken it’.’
The AFP allege the smugglers were part of a transnational drug syndicate that twice tried to smuggle cocaine into the busy Sydney 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, or when the diver dropped the tyre.
When a diver went to retrieve a $45million shipment of cocaine from a vessel docked in Port Botany, he dropped the package – which sunk to the ocean floor (pictured is the port in 2020)
Four months later, the same group tried to import 30 kilograms of cocaine.
Authorities secretly located another tyre, which was also found empty.
AFP officers arrested three men in April over their alleged role in the conspiracy.
Jovanco Kitanovski, 47, Mende Trajkoski, 43, and Robert Damcevski, 47, have each been charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug – offences can carry a penalty of up to life imprisonment.
AFP Detective Superintendent Matthew Ciantar said intercepted messages from the AN0M app would continue to support a crackdown on smugglers.
‘Some people may view cocaine as a safe drug but it is not, and the transnational serious organised criminals who prey on our communities to make a profit undermine our national security and economy,’ Det-Supt Ciantar said.
‘Had these drugs reached Australian streets, this amount could have been sold to 300,000 individuals and put up to $45 million into the pockets of dangerous criminals.
‘This outcome should serve as a clear message … we will find you and you will face the full force of the law.’
Operation Ironside intercepted encrypted messages and uncovered plans to conceal drugs by attaching shipments to the outside of ships (pictured, Port Botany in Sydney’s southeast
The discovery comes as the AFP revealed a growing number of international crime syndicates are using ships’ hulls to conceal their drugs.
Authorities first became aware of modern drug syndicates using the ‘old-school’ smuggling tactic during international sting Operation Ironside.
While the ‘underwater concealments’ are seen worldwide, police say Sydney is a popular drug destination due to the high retail price of cocaine.
Highly-skilled divers wait to receive the shipments at ports, with traffickers able to bypass border checks and unwanted police scrutiny by travelling by water.
Police are especially concerned about movements at ports in Newcastle and Wollongong due to their proximity to the lucrative market in the Harbour City.