Australia’s ‘weakest link’: Why do drug runners target Geraldton?
When 182 kilograms of ice were seized after being smuggled in a Chinese trawler and dropped off at a remote beach near the WA town of Geraldton last year, it was the largest and most complex drug bust the area had ever witnessed.
Asylum seeker boats had previously made their way to the Midwest coastal city, 400 kilometres north of Perth, but this was the first time an international drug-running syndicate on this scale had been uncovered.
Eighteen months passed, and it could have been seen as a one-off.
But today's revelation law enforcement agencies had made the largest methamphetamine bust in Australia's history at the port of Geraldton — a record 1.2 tonnes worth $1.04 billion — blew that out of the water.
For a second time, Geraldton had been specifically selected by an alleged criminal syndicate to bring in a massive quantity of drugs; this time equivalent to 13 million deals on the streets.
It begs the question: is Geraldton a weak link in Australia's border defences, an easy entrance point for drug runners?
Drugs destined for eastern states
Police today said they were well aware of the vulnerabilities of Western Australia's more than 20,000 kilometres of often isolated and sparsely inhabited coastline.
They said the drugs were destined for the eastern seaboard. But they were brought ashore 3000 kilometres away on the other side of the continent.
It was obviously considered easier to bring the meth in to Geraldton and then transport it across the entire country, rather than risk smuggling them in through NSW, Victoria or Queensland.
And whoever was behind the smuggling operation was clearly not deterred by the fact last year's attempt by a Chinese and Malaysian syndicate had failed.
Seven men involved in bringing the 182 kilograms to Australia were just last week found guilty by a court of drug trafficking. Another six men were acquitted.
In that case a "mother ship" called the Mega Profit II had anchored off the Abrolhos Islands, north-east of Geraldton.
The string of 122 islands only has a small seasonal population of fishermen who live there. Tourists are not allowed to stay overnight.
The drug runners may have thought the vessel would pass largely unnoticed as just another fishing boat.
From the rusty trawler, the meth was brought on a tender to a remote beach about 100km south of Geraldton, to be carried off and sold.
'We are watching': AFP
In the case of the record 1.2 tonnes of meth seized this week, police said another "mother ship" had brought the drugs from China, where they are believed to have been manufactured.
A smaller vessel, the Valkoista, then allegedly picked up the drugs and brought them to the Port of Geraldton about 2:00am yesterday.
A total of 59 bags, each weighing 20 kilograms and covered in Chinese writing, were then allegedly loaded in a white van almost two hours later.
Another bag was allegedly found on the Valkoista.
Australian Border Force WA Regional Commander Rod O'Donnell said the bust proved the long coastline was no advantage to criminal networks.
"Some criminals clearly think they can exploit that and evade detection," Commander O'Donnell said.
"The evidence you see here today indicates they are clearly wrong.
"These criminals should always be aware and assume that we are watching and we are ready to respond."
How did 1.2 tonnes of drugs get to Australia?
- Law enforcement agencies believe the methamphetamine was manufactured in China.
- The drugs were loaded onto a "mother ship" which sailed to a position off the WA coast.
- 60 bags, each weighing 20 kilograms, were allegedly transferred from the mother ship to the marine vessel Valkoista.
- The Valkoista allegedly sailed to the port of Geraldton, 400km north of Perth, to offload the drugs.
- The drug-filled bags were allegedly loaded into a white van waiting on the dock, where they were seized by police.
- Police say the drugs were destined for the eastern seaboard to be sold to the public.
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