5 May 2024

Australian Border Force patrols target illegal drug traffic across Eyre Peninsula

| James Day
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A bird's-eye view of a police boat doing a turn in the water

The South Australian Police Water Operations Unit welcomed a new vessel into its fleet as it collaborated with the Australian Border Force patrols. Photo: SA Police.

The Australian Border Force (ABF) has conducted a week-long operation across the Eyre Peninsula as part of an ongoing effort to protect the South Australian border from illicit drugs.

From Streaky Bay to Ceduna, surveillance patrols gathered intelligence on land and sea. ABF officers also spoke to remote communities about their role in supporting their efforts to keep the region safe from criminal syndicates.

Briefings were also held by the ABF with the Mayor and chief executive officer of Ceduna’s District Council, and representatives from the Streaky Bay Council – along with an on-board demonstration of the ABF’s Limestone Coast vessel capabilities.

ABF Acting Chief Superintendent Alex Kelsall said locals in remote communities throughout the Eyre Peninsula had an important role to play in protecting the coastal border, where the agency had district offices in Port Pirie, Port Lincoln and the Port of Adelaide.

“Ceduna is the region’s second-largest shipping port,” said Acting Chief Superintendent Kelsall.

”We can’t be everywhere all the time, so locals in remote communities are our eyes and ears. It is also important to remember, one small observation could help stop a much larger border crime.”

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The ABF urged locals to make anonymous reports through the Border Watch site so the agency could support wider policing operations deterring criminal syndicates seeking to import illicit substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

Early last year, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) hosted an event on the Limestone Coast with South Australian Police (SAPOL), emergency services and local migrant support networks. The event invited locals from the Afghan, African and Karen communities to improve these migrants’ perception of police so they are more likely to help officers’ efforts.

In 2021, the AFP said over the previous three years it had seized more than 2.2 tonnes of drugs, of which 1.7 tonnes had been taken in that year alone.

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More recently, in January, the ABF seized 139 kg of cocaine hidden inside a shipment of 13 luxury buses destined for Adelaide, via Perth. Under the codename Operation Silkwood, officers later arrested two Victorian men in a Port Adelaide hotel. They were refused bail and remanded in custody.

However, the biggest haul of illicit drugs ever confiscated in South Australia was in March 2022, when an AFP-led investigation seized 416 kg of cocaine off Yorke Peninsula. The estimated street value at the time was more than $166 million.

Four Filipino foreign nationals, who were crew members of an international bulk-shipping carrier, appeared in an Adelaide court on charges relating to the illicit drug importation. Police alleged the crew members offloaded the shipment of drugs overboard once in South Australian waters.

The multi-jurisdictional operation, codenamed Operation Lithgow, involved the AFP, ABF, SAPOL, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Department of Home Affairs.

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