Drug bust shocks cruise world

Three Canadian cruise ship passengers were charged with drug smuggling Monday after Australian police allegedly found 95 kilograms (209plbs) of cocaine in their cabin luggage.

The three passengers– Andre Tamine, 63, Isabelle Legace, 28, and Melina Roberce, 22—had sailed to Sydney from Southhampton in the U.K. aboard MS Sea Princess, operated by California-based Princess Cruises. They were arrested Sunday after police discovered the major haul, reports CBC.

The drugs have a reported street value of nearly $23 million and constitute the largest narcotics seizure in Australia carried by cruise or airlines passengers, Australian Border Force Commander Tim Fitzgerald told reporters Monday.

“I can’t go into specifics about the background of this particular syndicate, but you have to be a very organised … to get your hands on 95 kilograms of cocaine,” Fitzergerald said, noting that the the Sea Princess had made multiple stops in South American countries before arriving Sydney.

“Sydney is highly attractive for cruise ships … so we’re continually risk assessing the cruise ships and the passengers that come by air. This particular cruise ship – because of the nature and the amount of ports it had been to – was considered quite high risk in itself.

Authorities believe the final destination for the drugs was Australia. The Canadian trio did not apply for bail and it was formally refused by a judge Monday. They will remain in custody until their next court appearance on October 26.

Police are investigating whether they boarded with the drugs or sourced them from one of several South American ports the ship visited on its way to Australia.

On Sunday, Australian Border Force officers boarded the ship when it berthed in Sydney Harbour and, with the help of detector dogs, searched a number of passenger cabins.

Fitzgerald alleged 35 kilograms of cocaine were found in suitcases in a cabin the women shared and 60 kilograms of the drug were found in the man’s luggage in a separate cabin.

He thanked the U.S. Department of Homelands Security and the Canada Border Services Agency for helping identify the three as “high-risk passengers” among the 1,800 on board.

Clive Murray, assistant commissioner of strategic border command with the Australian Border Force, said the incident was an example of international co-operation in the fight against international drug syndicates.

“These syndicates should be on notice that the Australian Border Force is aware of all of the different ways they attempt to smuggle drugs into our country and we are working with a range of international agencies to stop them,” he said.

The Australian Federal Police said the investigation is ongoing and further arrests have not been ruled out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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