Vanuatu to Australia Rally identified as favourite for drug cartel

Drugs found by authorities on this sailing boat
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For some months Sail-World has been reporting on the occasional swoop on yachts carrying drugs on sailing boats from South America into Australia. (including the failed attempts - see Sail-World www.sail-world.com/Cruising/NH/Authorities-on-alert-for-drugs-across-the-Pacific/104563!story)

There has been a growing tendency for drug importers to the South Pacific to use the low profile nature of a sailing boat hidden among the scores which make their way across the Pacific each year to carry their lode, but now, in a confidential report, the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Bundaberg in Australia has been identified as a favourite for the drug trade.


The intelligence gathering operation has linked one central America syndicate to over 1500 kilograms of cocaine smuggled to Australia from Vanuatu via yachts participating in successive Bundaberg Cruising Yacht Cub 'Port2Port' rallies. The syndicate is suspected of importing a huge shipment of cocaine into Australia in the Port Vila to Bundaberg yacht rally in late 2010.

Federal police seized a second shipment of 700 kilograms of cocaine smuggled on a yacht in the 2011 sailing event and made another seizure of 750 kilograms of cocaine on a boat in Port Vila earlier this year.

In early November the ACBPS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to enhance cooperation between the two agencies.

The agreement was signed in Washington by the Chief Executive Officer ACBPS, Michael Pezzullo, and Assistant Commandant, USCG Intelligence and Criminal Investigations, Rear Admiral Christopher J. Tomney.

It is part of a broad program of reform within ACBPS, which includes a commitment to working proactively with trusted partners globally.

Mr Pezzullo said the agreement reflected the common interest of Australia and the United States in meeting the challenge of securing the global maritime domain against a range of shared threats and risks, from piracy to illegal foreign fishing and people smuggling.

'The threats faced at the Australian border are increasingly global in nature. It is only by working in partnership that we can adequately respond to those threats and contribute to international efforts to secure a domain crucial to international trade, economic activity and prosperity,' Mr Pezzullo said.

The MOU with USCG provides a formal framework for the sharing of information and experience which will help protect the respective maritime areas of both nations and those across the region. Both agencies have already reaped benefits from co-operation.

Mr Pezzullo said ACBPS had gained significant insights from the USCG experience with vessel acquisition and programs, contributing to the success of the ACBPS Cape Class patrol boat initiative.

The formal MOU between ACBPS and USCG is expected to pave the way for further cooperation in areas such as marine training, personnel deployment and officer exchanges, as well as information sharing on the drug cartels.

'It allows us to take our level of co-operation to the next level, beyond dialogue to deeper engagement and active co-operation in a range of areas. This is a key plank of the modernisation of the ACBPS and the changes being implemented as part of our Blueprint for Reform 2013-18,' Mr Pezzullo said.

Now the crackdown in the south Pacific, which has also included large cocaine seizures from yachts near New Caledonia and Tonga, is part of a major shift in the federal police's anti-organised crime operations.

The reason the business model is considered so successful by drug cartels is that Australians are willing to pay 'ridiculously high' prices compared to other countries.

So the message is clear: beware of who might be anchored next to you if you are on your way towards New Zealand or Australia.

The Blueprint for Reform 2013-18 can be found at: http://www.customs.gov.au/site/Reformquicklinks.asp