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The 62-year-old man was arrested as he attempted to board a flight to Singapore at Cairns Airport yesterday afternoon.
The arrest was made by Queensland Police and AFP officers.
He was taken to the Cairns Watch House and charged with the federal crime of importing a large commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, and the New South Wales state crime of large commercial drug supply.
Detectives from the NSW organised crime unit are travelling to Cairns today to seek the man’s extradition.
He will appear at Cairns Magistrates Court today.
The arrest comes three days after the body of a scuba diver was found in the port of Newcastle next to a South American container ship.
Soon after his body was recovered, 54 kilograms of cocaine was discovered.
The ship, which had travelled from Argentina, arrived in Newcastle on Sunday evening, and later that night a rubber ducky and a tinny were seen travelling to it.
The vessel was carrying soybean powder and police are looking at whether the drugs were attached to the outside of it.
“There’s evidently more people involved than the dead man,” Superintendent Rob Critchlow said today.
“As most people would realise, people don’t scuba dive alone.
“There’s obviously safety protocols even with people involved in offending.
“It was quite complicated, some of the devices they used and the presence of two boats indicate at least two other people.
“This man’s been left for dead basically, either to die or when he did die, these people fled.
“So it’s quite disgusting … regardless of what he was involved in.”
The 62-year-old man has not been charged in relation to the diver’s death.
Police have given no indication the man arrested yesterday was involved in the scuba dive.
The dead man was wearing highly-technical diving gear including breathing equipment that doesn’t emit any bubbles.
Critchlow asked anyone who sold dive gear in the area to contact police.
Inquiries into the death and the cocaine discovery are continuing.
The AFP is also conducting inquiries offshore.