After a diver’s body was recovered along the shoreline and packets thought to be cocaine were later discovered in the port, Australian police and border protection agencies are examining a bulker that arrived in Newcastle over the weekend. Authorities stated the port had been under surveillance as a possible drug smuggling hotspot, but the unusual circumstances of this incident have led them to assume it is part of a wider smuggling operation.
After a trip from San Lorenzo, Argentina, the 60,000 dwt bulker Areti landed in Newcastle on Sunday, May 8. The Marshall Islands-registered vessel is delivering a shipment of soybean powder and was routinely inspected upon its arrival.
Police were called to the port on Monday morning after a diver was discovered unconscious along the shoreline. The diver was pronounced dead at the scene after attempts to resuscitate him failed. The strange circumstances of the guy, assumed to be a foreigner wearing a wetsuit and advanced driving gear, were instantly noted by police. They claimed he had a high-tech rebreather that does not produce air bubbles and is generally used by only the most experienced divers.
They also uncovered yellow packets near the waterfront that seemed to contain cocaine upon investigation. They have so far recovered 50 kilograms worth A$20 million (US$13.8 million), and the hunt for the bulker, harbor, and shoreline is still ongoing. The police told the media that there could be a total of A$100 million (US$70 million) in cocaine involved without explaining their reasoning.
On Monday, police divers were in the harbor checking the hull and the area surrounding the 656-foot vessel, maybe looking for traces of a sea chest containing the drugs. They also reboarded the detained vessel to conduct in-depth interviews with the crew to see whether they were involved in the smuggling.
According to surveillance footage from the harbor, two tiny boats approached the bulker overnight on Sunday, one an inflatable and the other a small aluminum boat, probably in an attempt to discover the drugs.
“There’s evidently more people involved than the dead man,” Superintendent Rob Critchlow of the New South Wales Police Force told local reporters. “As most people would realize, people don’t scuba dive alone.” They were unsure why the operators of the boats abandon the diver and the drugs, possibly leaving him for dead or to die on the shore.
On Tuesday, police divers were planned to return to the ship to further inspect the hull. Meanwhile, police are examining local diving shops and appealing for the public’s assistance in locating anyone who may have purchased this advanced driving equipment in recent days. A review of police databases yielded no results in identifying the deceased.