Cocaine haul sparks hunt for Australian trio rescued at sea

Cocaine haul sparks hunt for Australian trio rescued at sea

  • By Tom Houston
  • BBC News, Sydney

3 hours ago

Image source, Australian Maritime Safety Authority

picture description,

The men were initially praised for having the right safety gear to alert authorities

A 365kg haul of cocaine has prompted Australian authorities to launch a hunt for three men they rescued from the sea two weeks ago.

The trio were found off the coast of Western Australia on February 1st clinging to an Esky cooler.

Police say they claim they were out fishing when their boat capsized.

But they now believe the men were behind an international drug shipment and are urging them to turn themselves in.

Authorities initially praised the trio when they were rescued near Eclipse Island, 17 km south of Albany in WA, and issued a press release saying their case had “the importance of wearing a life jacket and the… wearing a distress signal”.

But WA Police soon found inconsistencies in the trio’s story and contacted the Australian Federal Police (AFP), who launched an investigation.

Six days after the men were rescued, a black plastic-wrapped package containing packets of cocaine was found on a beach 54 km (33 miles) west of Albany.

And the next day, an overturned cabin cruiser was discovered with eight similarly wrapped packages, each containing about 40kg of cocaine.

Police believe the drugs were collected from the sea and brought ashore by boat. How the drugs were initially dumped in the ocean is not known.

Detectives have now asked the public to help locate Perth’s Mate Stipinovich, 49, and Karl Whitburn, 45, and 36-year-old Aristides Avlontis, believed to be in the Northern Territory.

One of the WA men is the registered owner of the capsized boat.

Acting AFP commander Graeme Marshall said the drugs seizure would deal a “significant blow” to a “well-resourced syndicate”.

“AFP estimates that this seizure saved the community more than $235 million in drug-related harm, including related crime, healthcare and lost productivity,” he said.