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Guilty pleas in massive Sydney cruise ship cocaine bust

March 1, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Two overseas ‘tourists’ have pleaded guilty to smuggling cocaine into Sydney on a well-known cruise ship, following seizure of a haul said to be worth AUD 21 million, the biggest drug bust on a passenger ship in Australia.

Melina Roberge, 23, and Andre Tamine, 64, both from Canada, initially denied their roles in the drug importation on Sea Princess in 2016.

They changed their pleas ahead of the trial due to start this week, media reported.

A third Canadian, 29-year-old Isabelle Lagacé, a former adult film actress, was jailed in November over her part in the crime. She claimed she had transported the drugs to clear a AUD 20,000 debt and said the “error in judgment” would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Roberge and Lagacé had posted on social media pictures of themselves enjoying what appeared to be a blissful seven-week holiday on a 51-night cruise from Southampton that visited the US, Bermuda, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile, among other countries, before arriving in Australia.

Drugs seized in the cruise ship bust

 

Australian Border Force was onto the case, however. It had identified the three Canadians as “high-risk travellers” and was scrutinising the vessel because of its many port calls. The scrutiny involved a joint operation between the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), in cooperation with the US Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

When the ship docked in Sydney, police pounced. Highly trained sniffer dogs detected 35kg of cocaine inside Roberge and Lagacé’s shared cabin. A further 60kg was discovered in Tamine’s cabin.

Authorities concluded the trio were part of a “very well organised syndicate”.

“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,” ABF Assistant Commissioner, Strategic Border Command, Clive Murray said at the time.

Instagram pic of Melina Roberge (left) with Isabelle Lagacé, who was jailed last year

All three Canadians were charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Lagacé was sentenced in November to seven and a half years jail. As the non-parole period was backdated to her arrest date, however, she may be released in February 2021.

Roberge and Tamine will be sentenced later this year.

Written by Peter Needham

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