Three men who were dramatically rescued clinging to seas in rough seas after their boat capsized are now wanted for questioning by Australian Federal Police over a $235 million shipment of cocaine.
On Tuesday, investigators announced the seizure of 365 kilograms of cocaine they suspect was transported on the seven-metre vessel The Three.
The men were rescued in dangerous waters 17 kilometers offshore from Albany, Western Australia on February 1.
But their claims that they were on a fishing trip were immediately met with skepticism by the police, who said they were “inconsistent”.
Matti Stepinowicz (pictured) is one of the men the Australian Federal Police want to speak to
“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, February 8, 2023), a seven-meter boat was found upside down off Peace Bay, about 45 kilometers 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 kilograms of cocaine.
The police believe that the drugs were collected from the ocean and loaded onto a seven-meter 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 the police want to speak to are Matti Stepinovich, 49, and Carl Whitbourne, 45, of 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.
One of the men is the registered owner of the boat (pictured) where the cocaine was found
When the police searched the cruiser’s cabin they found eight more packages wrapped in plastic (like the one pictured), each containing about 40 kilograms of cocaine.
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.
Aristides Aflonitis (pictured) is believed to be 36 years old in the Northern Territory
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.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines and our partners will continue to target and disrupt both domestic and overseas criminals who import drugs, to ensure we can protect the Australian community,” said Commander Marshall.
AFP also wants to research and speak with 45-year-old Carl Whitbourne (pictured).
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.