Detectives investigating the death of the diver who died trying to recover $20million of cocaine in Newcastle have arrested a man 2200km away in North Queensland as he was allegedly trying to flee Australia.
James Blake Blee, 62, was seized by Queensland police and Australian Federal Police at Cairns Airport as he attempted to board a flight to Singapore on Wednesday afternoon.
The man has been charged with importing a large commercial quantity of border controlled drug and large commercial drug supply.
A man has been arrested in connection with the death of a diver who was trying to recover $20 million of cocaine from the hull of a ship in Newcastle
The man was arrested after investigations by Strike Force Groove which was established by the NSW Organised Crime Squad after the body of a diver and 54kg of cocaine was located at Newcastle port, NSW, on Monday.
The team has been bolstered by officers from Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, Northern Territory Police and Queensland Police.
The body of the man, who was wearing technical dive gear, washed up on Monday, with police suspecting he was using ‘old school’ smuggling tactics rarely used by modern drug syndicates.
The unidentified diver was recovered from the water along with more than 50kg of cocaine off Heron Road, alongside the Port of Newcastle.
Police divers are pictured in a recovery operation after a diver was found dead close to a massive cocaine haul
‘These people have fled so it’s quite disgusting that this man’s been left to die regardless of what he was involved with,’ said Police Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow on Monday.
Det Supt Critchlow said the port had been under police scrutiny for some time.
‘There have been some indications in the past of (outlaw criminal motorcycle gang) involvement around the docks,’ he said.
‘It remains a point of risk … and organised crime definitely look for weaknesses to target those ports.’
The map shows Australia’s ‘cocaine superhighway’
Australia’s largest coal port has long been a beacon for international drug importers, with the nation’s most lucrative market for illicit substances – Sydney – just a two-hour drive south.
The route is often referred to among seasoned organised crime detectives as Australia’s drug ‘superhighway’.
NSW Police investigator turned private sector consultant Peter Moroney recently revealed to Daily Mail Australia that an old tactic of drug traffickers was to train in deep-water scuba diving.
‘Someone would fly to places such as Indonesia, identify a cargo ship then dive down and secretly attach drugs to the hull of the vessel,’ the veteran ex-cop of 25 years said.
‘When it arrived and was under anchor they would then unattach it and bring it back to an Australian port.’
He said the smuggling tactic is rarely seen anymore with drug lords now opting to move illicit product into Australia by using a ‘mothership’.
Port of Newcastle has long been a beacon for international drug importers with the nation’s largest market for illicit substances – Sydney – just a two-hour drive south
‘These days they send out a ‘mothership’ somewhere into the South Pacific where there’s little attention from local authorities and a vast amount of ocean to patrol,’ Mr Moroney said.
The vessel will then meet a cruising yacht and fill it up with either Colombian cocaine or Mexican meth.
Police said members of the public and NSW Ambulance paramedics tried desperately to save the man, but he died at the scene.
‘The person was wearing full scuba gear and very technical scuba gear,’ Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow told 2GB radio.
‘Port officials noticed what appeared to be a body. Water police came over to assist and then they located what appeared to be drugs, not far away from where the person was found.’
The drugs were bricks of cocaine covered in thick plastic in a bundle that had been secured with ropes and plastic.
He said the Australian Border Force are now closely examining a nearby ship and its crew.
The body of a man wearing technical dive gear (pictured) has washed up at a busy port with police suspecting he was trying to bring ashore a $20million-haul of cocaine using ‘old school’ smuggling tactics that are rarely seen by modern drug syndicates
‘It is a ship that is registered in Panama and it last left port in Argentina before it came to Australia,’ Detective Superintendent Critchlow said.
‘We are talking to all the sailors on board and the Captain as well as offshore authorities.’
He admitted the road between Newcastle and Sydney has become a major target of drug cartels able to hide their dangerous product amongst the constant flow of sea traffic.
‘Anywhere we have large movements of shipping it makes it really open to organised crime,’ Detective Superintendent Critchlow Organised Crime Squad detectives are travelling to Queensland to seek the man’s extradition to NSW when he appears at Cairns Magistrates Court later today.
A police spokesman added: ‘Inquiries under Strike Force Groove are ongoing.’