Australia

Seal 'helps' bust alleged international drug ring in Australia

An undated handout photo made available by Western Australia Police shows an aerial view of Burton Island, Western Australia, Australia (issued 05 September 2019). Image copyright EPA
Image caption Burton Island, where two suspects were found hiding

Australian police believe they have busted an international drug smuggling ring - with the help of an angry seal.

Police were first alerted to the alleged plot when a UK and French national were found hiding on an island the day after their yacht ran aground off Western Australia.

Officers also discovered an estimated $688,000 (£588,000) of illicit drugs.

A second Briton, an American and Australian appeared in court on Thursday in connection with the haul.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the three - named as Jason Lassiter, 45, Scott Felix Jones, 35, and Angus Bruce Jackson, 50 - were allegedly the "shore party" who were "ready to receive" the drugs, news website Perth Now reported.

"We have disrupted a big international drug syndicate here," he added, saying officers were still working with international partners, including the UK's National Crime Agency.

However, things may have been different had the two men aboard the yacht - Antoine Dicenta, 51, from France, and UK national Graham Palmer, 34 - not been prevented escaping by a large seal.

Damien Healy, Geraldton Volunteer Marine Rescue Service vice-commander, revealed how the men were spotted on an island west of the town of Geraldton on Tuesday, 3 September, a day after the yacht was found.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The men's escape was thwarted by a sleeping seal (file photo)

The suspects had reached the island with the help of an inflatable dinghy, and allegedly hidden the drugs - including cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine - under some seaweed.

But once they realised they had been found, they made a bid to escape - only to discover a "big, huge seal" was now blocking their way.

"They woke it up and it jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them," Mr Healy told ABC radio.

"The guys basically had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested and they ended up choosing getting arrested."

All five men have been remanded in custody.

Mr Dicenta and Mr Palmer are due to appear in court again on 20 September.

US citizen Mr Lassiter will appear in court on 26 September, while Briton Mr Jones will appear in October and Australian Mr Jackson in November. All three were arrested in Perth.

In the meantime, Police Commissioner Dawson had some advice to share.

"If you are in a hot pink shirt, don't try and hide in low scrub," he told reporters.

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