See the ‘secret compartment’ at a backyard spa where a man accused of smuggling 800 pounds of cocaine was found hiding, in an extraordinary twist after he and two others were found floating in the ocean in the back of a a sky
- Mate Stipinovich, 49, found hiding in a WA home after a six-week manhunt
- Accused of drug trafficking with Aristides Avlonitis, 36, and Karl Whitburn, 45
- Trio was rescued from the ocean and boat loaded with cocaine found a week later
Three men who were dramatically rescued clinging to an esky after their boat capsized are now behind bars for more than 365kg of cocaine.
Mate Stipinovich, 49, was found hiding under a backyard spa when police raided a house in Byford, south Perth, on Wednesday night.
He was the last of the trio to be captured after a six-week manhunt in at least two states on suspicion of drug trafficking.
What started out as an uplifting story of survival took just a week to turn into a criminal investigation after the capsized boat was discovered.
Mate Stipinovich, 49, was the last of the trio to be captured after a six-week manhunt in at least two states on suspicion of drug trafficking.
Stipinovich, 49, was found hiding in a secret compartment under a backyard spa when police raided a house in Byford, south Perth.
Stipinovich and his alleged co-conspirators Aristides Avlonitis, 36, and Karl Whitburn, 45, were rescued from the ocean on February 1.
Their cabin cruiser Aces and Eights capsized in rough seas and they only survived by using the esky to float about 17km off the coast of Albany, Western Australia.
That seemed to be the end until on February 7, a black plastic bag with packets of cocaine, weighing about 40 kg in total, was found floating in the water.
Eight more were found aboard the 25-foot boat when it turned up a day later, capsized off Peaceful Bay, some 28 miles west of Denmark.
The Australian Federal Police, having already deemed his claim to be on a fishing trip suspicious, issued an alert for the trio, who were unwilling to speak to police.
The secret compartment police removed Stipinovich when they tracked him down.
Stipinovich (left) and his alleged co-conspirators Aristides Avlonitis, 36, (center) and Karl Whitburn, 45, (right) were pulled from the ocean on February 1 and were looking for men just a week later.
Avlonitis was traced to a rural home near Darwin on February 15 and Whitburn in the north-eastern suburbs of Perth on March 9.
All three were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, punishable by life in prison. Stipinovich faced the court in Perth on Thursday.
Police alleged that the men picked up the drugs after they were left floating in the ocean by another ship, before their boat capsized in the waves.
How the cocaine got into the ocean and by whom is still under investigation.
AFP Sergeant Kristen Swan said the seizure was one of the largest on record, saving the community more than $190 million in drug-related damage.