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Alleged drug gang thwarted by giant seal in $1bn Australian drug bust

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Three more men have been charged over a massive A$1bn drug haul found on a tiny island off Western Australia after a yacht ran aground and was abandoned, sparking a search for its occupants.

Police launched a raid on Burton Island off the port town of Geraldton last week, finding Frenchman Antoine Dicenta, 51, and British man Graham Palmer, 34, allegedly with 1.087 tonne of methylamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy in dozens of bags that they had attempted to hide under seaweed.

The drugs hidden under seaweed. About 40 bags were located, with preliminary tests suggesting the haul included cocaine and ecstasy illicit drugs.



The drugs hidden under seaweed. About 40 bags were located, with preliminary tests suggesting the haul included cocaine and ecstasy illicit drugs. Photograph: Wa Police Handout/EPA

They allegedly tried to flee but were thwarted when a huge seal blocked their path, police said. The pair were charged last week with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.

On Thursday, Jason Dean Lassiter, 45, an American, Scott Felix Jones, 35, another Briton, and Angus Bruce Jackson, 50, from New South Wales, faced Perth magistrates court charged with conspiring and attempting to possess the drugs with intent to sell or supply.

The Australian was arrested at Perth airport while the other two were arrested in the centre of Perth on Wednesday.

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Chris Dawson, Western Australia’s police commissioner, said it was alleged that Lassiter, Jones and Jackson were “the shore party”.

“They were in another boat and they were ready to receive,” Dawson told ABC radio. “We’ve disrupted a big international drug syndicate here.”

The dramatic drug bust unfolded after the yacht was found stuck on a reef near Stick Island, which is about 7km from Burton Island in the Abrolhos archipelago.

Authorities were initially concerned that the occupants of the boat were in trouble at sea because a dinghy was missing from the yacht.

As planes searched the area, a crayfisherman saw someone on Burton Island ducking down in a bid to hide in low scrub as aircraft flew overhead, Geraldton volunteer marine rescue service vice commander Damien Healy said.

When police arrived, Dicenta and Palmer made a run for their dinghy but were thwarted by a huge sleeping seal, Healy told the broadcaster.

“They woke it up and it jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them.

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

Dawson had a tip for the pair.

“If you’re in a hot pink shirt don’t try and hide in low scrub.”

Dicenta and Palmer faced court in Geraldton last week and will appear again on 20 September.

Lassiter’s next court date is 26 September, Jones is due on 8 October and Jackson is scheduled for 21 November.

All five men have been refused bail and remanded in custody.

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