Australian police arrested four seafarers on Thursday for attempting to smuggle 416 kg of cocaine into the country on a Safe Bulkers vessel.

This was “the biggest haul of illicit drugs ever confiscated in [the state of] South Australia, worth an estimated street value of more than AUD 166m [$122m],” the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said, without identifying the ship.

Safe Bulkers later released a statement acknowledging that the vessel was its 78,000-dwt panamax Kypros Bravery (built 2015).

Speaking of “abuse of its transportation services”, Safe Bulkers said it is taking the matter “very seriously” and expressed gratitude to the AFP and other Australian law enforcement agencies for clearing up the case.

The US-listed company said it cooperated fully with authorities, which cleared the Kypros Bravery to continue operations and leave the country.

“The vessel has sailed from Adelaide today, transporting her cargo of animal feed barley to her destination,” Safe Bulkers said.

Operation Lithgow

The arrested seafarers, four Filipino nationals aged between 29 and 44, are due to appear in an Adelaide court on 1 April to hear illicit drug importation charges.

“If convicted, the accused face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment,” the AFP said.

In Operation Lithgow, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials had previously tried to locate the drugs on board the vessel at the Port of Adelaide on 17 March.

Agents came out empty-handed on that initial search. However, they found evidence that led them to believe a “significant quantity of drugs” had been dropped off by the vessel at sea a few days before.

“In response, supported by partner agencies, ABF officers commenced operational activity along the South Australian coastline, which included extensive land, marine and air patrols,” the AFP said.

The illicit cargo was finally located off the coast of Yorke Peninsula on 21 March after the ABF, AFP and other agencies had searched the nearby coastline.

“It is almost certain the drugs would have been trafficked to other Australian states,” said AFP assistant commissioner Peter Harvey.