A South Australian man has been refused bail after being charged over a multi-million dollar cocaine importation bid off the NSW coast.
Jake Hurkmans, 27, was arrested on Thursday at Botany in Sydney after police intercepted a boat carrying almost 200kg of cocaine.
Federal police on Friday told reporters they had received information last Saturday about a large container ship, the MSC Joanna, heading to Australia from Belgium with a large quantity of cocaine on board.
They described the operation as a “brazen” attempt by international organised crime group to smuggle the cocaine into Australia.
Police allege they tracked Hurkmans in a small vessel from Taren Point, in Sydney’s south, in the early hours of Thursday morning.
They say the boat headed south around the coast to Sydney’s Royal National Park, where it followed the MSC Joanna before stopping.
Mr Hurkmans was arrested as he returned to Sydney’s Port Botany.
Police allege they found 11 plastic tubs of cocaine on board on the vessel weighing 200kg, with an estimated street value of $90 million.
The crates containing 199 blocks of cocaine had allegedly been offloaded from the larger ship at sea and transported to the smaller vessel.
NSW Police Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said officers stopped the vessel, seized the drugs and made an arrest “in dim light, in high seas with two days lead-in where they did extensive training and practice”.
Several search warrants were carried out in NSW and South Australia, while the MSC Joanna has also been searched. Some $500,000 in cash was also allegedly seized at a Caringbah storage shed.
Police are continuing to interview the crew of the 330m container ship that was transporting 1500 containers, including refrigerator goods.
AFP Commander Kirsty Schofield said the threat from transnational organised crime groups was real and directly affected Australia’s security.
“Transnational organised crime groups prey on Australia’s lucrative drug market where Australians are among the highest per capita users of illicit drugs in the world,” Ms Schofield told reporters.
Police say Thursday’s seizure was the third attempt to import large quantities of cocaine via maritime transfer since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Australian Border Force Acting Commander Garry Low said the operation showed “the lengths these criminal syndicates will go to to fuel their greed” and the syndicate had been “brazen” in their importation attempt.
Mr Hurkmans has been charged with importing a commercial quantity of border control drugs and possessing a commercial quantity of an unlawfully imported border controlled drug, which both carry a 25-year jail term.
He has also been charged with dealing in the proceeds of crime.
Mr Hurkmans appeared at Central Local Court on Friday but did not apply for bail, which was formally refused. The case will return to court on May 5.