ABF disrupts efforts to conceal illicit drugs on roll-on/roll-off vessels

The Australian Border Force (ABF) continues to disrupt organised criminals in their attempts to import illicit drugs concealed in new vehicles shipped to Australia on roll-on/roll-off (RORO) vessels.

Designed to carry large quantities of wheeled cargo such as motorcycles, cars, commercial vans, trucks and buses, RORO ships are known targets for transnational crime syndicates to conceal illicit drugs, including cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy) and ketamine.

The ABF deploys numerous detection technologies, including drug detector dogs and narcotic detection devices, to counter the efforts of organised crime groups, and works closely with its law enforcement partners to defend the integrity of the Australian border.

The ABF has detected significant quantities of illicit drugs concealed within new vehicles being transported by RORO vessels across Australia, including at the Port of Melbourne and Fremantle Harbour.

In May 2023, under Operation Meribel, ABF investigators identified a RORO transporting two new commercial vans suspected of concealing drugs.

ABF officers examined the vehicles on the vessel and found suspicious packages concealed inside panels of the vans.

The ABF located 79 plastic bags, which were found to contain 84kg of ketamine.

This amount of ketamine has an estimated wholesale value of $3,360,000.

The matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), who conducted further investigations leading to the arrest of two men.

The men – aged 28 and 29 – were charged with allegedly attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs. They remain before the courts.

Operation Silkwood began after intelligence identified an alleged importation of cocaine concealed within a consignment of 13 luxury buses on board an international cargo ship destined for Adelaide, via Perth.

ABF officers conducted a search of the buses on Sunday 28 January 2024, after the ship arrived into Fremantle Harbour.

During the search, ABF officers located numerous packages in four of the buses. A presumptive test of the packages returned a positive result for cocaine.

In total, 139kg of cocaine was seized and the matter was subsequently referred to the AFP.

This amount of cocaine has an estimated potential street value of $45 million.

Following further inquiries led by the AFP, two men – aged 22 and 19 – were arrested at a hotel in Port Adelaide and charged over the alleged attempted import. They remain before the courts.

Since the success of Operation Meribel and Operation Silkwood, ABF maritime operations continue to deploy sophisticated detection technologies to counter the efforts of organised crime groups, and work closely with law enforcement partners to defend the integrity of the Australian border, in order to stop this method of drug importation.

ABF Superintendent, Maritime Operations (VIC/TAS), Dan Peters, said ABF detection methods are among the best in the world at identifying drugs concealed on RORO vessels.

“ABF officers remain determined to stop the importation of highly dangerous drugs – concealed in new vehicles – entering Australia,” Superintendent Peters said.

“Criminal groups continue to get bolder and more creative in their attempts to bring drugs across the border and into the community, but our targeting and detection methods will bring them undone.  

“The border is an asset that holds immeasurable strategic value for our nation and that is why the ABF works across all domains – air, land and sea – to ensure criminals fail in their many attempts to undermine its integrity.”

Members of the community are encouraged to report suspicious border-related activity through the Border Watch program at abf.gov.au/borderwatch. By reporting suspicious activities, you can help protect Australia’s border and the community. Information can be provided anonymously.

Footage of a RORO inspection available here: RORO VNR (vbrickrev.com)

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