A shocking twist in the dramatic rescue of three men found clinging to a cooler after their boat capsized when police found 365kg of cocaine in the ocean – as the ‘inconsistency’ that sparked suspicion is revealed
Three men who were dramatically rescued clinging to a cooler box in rough seas after their boat capsized are now wanted for questioning by Australian Federal Police over $235 million in cocaine. On Tuesday, investigators announced the seizure of 365 kilograms (805 pounds) of cocaine that they suspect had been transported on the seven-meter (23-foot) ship the Three. The men were rescued in dangerous waters 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) offshore from Albany, Western Australia on February 1st. But their claims that they were on a fishing trip were immediately met with skepticism by the police, who said they were “inconsistent”.
“Six days later, a package wrapped in black plastic containing several small packages of cocaine washed ashore near Denmark,” the AFP said. The following afternoon (Wednesday 8 February 2023), a seven-meter boat was found upside down off Peace Bay, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Denmark. When the police recovered and searched the cabin cruiser, they allegedly found eight more similar plastic-wrapped packages, each containing about 40 kg (88 lb) of cocaine. Police believe the drugs were collected from the ocean and loaded onto a seven-meter (23 ft) boat. But exactly how the drug was dropped into the water is still under investigation. She called on AFP to help the public locate the men they want the officers to speak to about the shipment.
Two of the men who want to speak to police are Matti Stepinowicz (pictured), 49, and Carl Whitbourne, 45, from Western Australia (Washington). The third man, Aristides Aflonitis, 36, is believed to be in the Northern Territory. One of the West Australian men is the registered owner of the boat where the cocaine was found. Acting Armed Forces of the Philippines Commander Graeme Marshall urged the three men to contact the police. “We also appeal to anyone else to contact us if they have information to help us find the men, or know anything about this drug import,” he said. “Intercepting this amount of drugs would be a huge blow to a well-resourced syndicate, and prevent millions of dollars in drug profits from flowing back into the group to fund their next criminal venture or extravagant lifestyles.” AFP estimated that the takeover saved the community about $235 million in drug-related damage, including healthcare-related crime and lost productivity.
Commander Marshall said that organized crime gangs use a variety of methods to try to smuggle large quantities of drugs into Australia and that the seized drugs could have been distributed throughout Australia rather than just in Western Australia. He said that there is a perception among some that cocaine is a safe drug. Let me be clear – it is not. Equally important, the dangerous transnational organized criminals who prey on Australia are undermining our national security, our economy and our social security system. AFP and our partners will continue to target and disrupt existing and offshore criminals who import drugs, to ensure we can protect the Australian community. Pictured: Aristides Avlonitis.
Superintendent Sean Senior of the Australian Border Force said he is constantly monitoring ships operating in and around shipping lanes, ports and harbors across Australia to identify suspicious activity. “We understand that the Australian border is one of our most important national assets, and we will continue to make the border a hostile environment for criminals trying to import illegal drugs,” he said. How and where this particular batch of cocaine was dumped into the ocean is still under investigation and is now part of an international investigation. Anyone with information about the incident is urged to contact the police.
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