Three charged as cocaine worth $250m seized from fishing boat off NSW coast

Three men are behind bars after up to $250 million worth of cocaine was seized from a small fishing boat that caught fire off the NSW coast.

Australian Border Force (ABF) started tracking a Chinese trawler when it entered Australian waters last Tuesday and took an “unusual route” towards Lord Howe Island.

The suspicious vessel didn’t have a fishing permit and was “zig-zagging” as it moved east off Newcastle.

Up to a tonne of drugs was allegedly transferred from the mystery ship to a fishing boat called “Coralynne’ before a dramatic police operation unfolded on Saturday morning.

Heavily armed officers battled 3.5-metre seas before storming the small boat and arrested three people — including two Sydney men, Chris Preca and Jackson Giles-Adam — and Man Chan from Hong Kong.

When authorities boarded the ship, it’s believed a fire broke out in one of the compartments but was quickly extinguished.

After being screened and tested for COVID-19 by NSW Health, the three men were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a controlled drug.

If found guilty, each face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

forensic officers outside a docked boat in sydney harbour
Authorities said there was a fire on the boat after officers boarded it.(Supplied: NSW Police)

Police seized cash, drug paraphernalia and a small amount of drugs when they raided properties yesterday in the Sydney suburbs of Zetland and Chatswood, and Glenbrook in the Lower Blue Mountains.

Assistant Commissioner Justine Gough from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said organised crime groups continued to exploit “our borders” despite the global pandemic.

“Our collaborative and swift actions have prevented illicit drugs from entering our community — drugs that cause destruction to individuals and Australian families,” she said.

a man smiling in the gym
Chris Preca, one of the arrested, faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.(Supplied)

“If we work on the basis that it is a couple of hundred of kilos up to one tonne then the street value is between $100 million and $250 million.”

It’s unclear what happened to the Chinese mothership, but Ms Gough said those inquiries were continuing.

NSW Border Force Commander Danielle Yannopoulos said her team received intelligence from New Zealand to eventually intercept “Coralynne” on Saturday.

“The ABF seized about 760 kilograms of cocaine last financial year — this is likely to be the biggest cocaine detection since 2017,” she said.

a man, his face blurred, being arrested by two officers in full tactical gear
The three men were handcuffed on choppy waters off the NSW coast.(Supplied: NSW Police)

Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith from NSW Police said rough seas and the need to comply with government health orders further complicated the operation.

“A lot of this product comes from countries that are at risk or dealing with COVID-19.

“PPE was worn throughout the operation, the prisoners are tested and then we go through a complex process of decontamination,” he said.

All three men were refused bail when they faced Central Local Court yesterday.