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Giant seal thwarts alleged international drug smugglers in $1bn Australian gang bust

The Independent logo The Independent 12/09/2019 Chiara Giordano
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A giant seal allegedly scuppered two international drug smugglers’ chances of getting away with a A$1 billion (£560 million) haul, police say.

The pair allegedly sailed across the Indian Ocean to Western Australia with the stash of cocaine, methylamphetamine and ecstasy but ran their yacht aground near the city of Geraldton and fled on a dinghy to Burton Island.

Officers searched the island on Tuesday and found French man Antoine Robert Dicenta, 51, and 34-year-old British man Graham Kurt Palmer, as well as more than one tonne of illegal drugs in 40 bags hidden beneath seaweed on the island, Western Australia Police said.

The men allegedly attempted to flee the officers – but were stopped in their tracks after they woke a sleeping seal who “jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them,” the Australian Associated Press reports.

Damien Healy, vice commander of the local volunteer marine rescue service, told ABC Radio the men “basically had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested”.

Mr Dicenta and Mr Palmer were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.

Three more men were also arrested in connection with the investigation on Wednesday.

A 45-year-old US national and a 35-year-old British national were arrested in Perth and a 50-year-old from New South Wales was arrested at Perth Airport.

All three men were refused bail and were due to appear at Perth Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

Assistant commissioner Brad Royce, of Western Australia Police, said: “The sheer size and nature of this seizure clearly indicates the involvement of an established criminal network.

“The arrests represent a significant development in the investigation.

“There is still a lot more work to be done and our efforts will continue as we work our way towards the more senior members of the criminal network.”

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